Wednesday, October 19, 2005

You can't stop a wrecking ball in mid-swing

Two readers (hat tip J&PF and Chuck) have called our attention to a piece in Government Health IT, an online newsletter for, well, government health IT, types.

As state and local health departments gear up to battle a possible avian flu outbreak, they face a sharp cut in funding from the Department of Health and Human Services. However, the loss could be fixed through funds intended to cover the costs of controlling a pandemic, added as an amendment to the 2006 Defense Department Appropriations bill.

“Critical funding is shrinking just as public health agencies are being required to expand their work in pandemic influenza preparation and response," said Dr. Rex Archer, health director of Kansas City, Mo., and president of the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO).
The Bush administration, in its proposed 2006 HHS budget, slashed funding for public health preparedness by $129 million -- from $926 million in 2005 to $797 million. The House version of the 2006 HHS bill appropriates $853 million while the Senate bill sticks with the$797 million requested by the administration.

Donna Brown, government affairs counsel at NACCHO, said those state and local preparedness funds provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an HHS agency, are used for a wide range of activities by local health departments, including information technology and disease surveillance systems.

“We need robust electronic information systems to detect disease outbreaks," Brown said, including surveillance systems that can alert local public health officials to potential flu symptoms. Those would be critical to helping combat a pandemic.
So what's the deal? Bush reads The Great Influenza and then cuts funds for public health?

Yes and no. The cuts are independent of the concern for influenza. They are a consequence of the wrecking-ball policies of the Bush Administration and the Republican-controlled congress (and shame to the democrats who helped). You don't stop a wrecking-ball in mid-swing. It has too much inertia and will continue to destroy critical infrastructure even as bandaids like supplementary avian flu funding try to cover the worst of the damage.

It's not just public health. It's dams, bridges, levees, the shredded safety-net for our most vulnerable neighbors. While pursuing military adventures abroad and obsessed with terrorists at home, the BushCo's left us defenseless and dangerously vulnerable in our own homes, workplaces and communities.

Enough is enough.