Bad time for county commission to cut PCHD’s funding

Doesn’t it seem like the middle of a health crisis might be a bad time to eliminate funding for a health department?

We understand that Preston County is operating on a limited budget. As Commission President Samantha Stone said, tax revenue has declined and therefore the budget must shrink (DP-03-27-20). Any other year, cutting $23,000 in funding for the county health department would probably only raise a few eyebrows. But this isn’t any other year. Cutting any funding — let alone tens of thousands of dollars — for any public health entity seems foolhardy and perhaps even a little reckless.

The Preston County Health Department may not do any direct coronavirus testing or treatment, but they do other important work. Most of what they do is preventative or educational — the whole point being that they can help residents pinpoint a potential health problem before it becomes a major problem or even a problem at all. The PCHD offers hypertension screenings, lab testing and HIV/AIDS screening and counseling free of charge. They also offer tuberculosis screening and testing, screening and treatment for STDs, the flu vaccine and other immunizations and financial, medical and supplemental services for pregnant women and infants.

One thing we know about coronavirus is it’s more dangerous for people with underlying health conditions. The PCHD can help residents identify health conditions that may put them at a higher risk of experiencing complications related to COVID-19. Knowing is half the battle, and someone who has been made aware of and educated about their health conditions will know what precautions to take to keep themselves and their loved ones safe.

In addition, part of the PCHD’s mission is “investigating and reporting infectious disease, as well as monitoring disease surveillance and statistics to prevent communicable disease outbreak.” This seems particularly important given that we are in a statewide — worldwide, really — communicable disease outbreak. And they must be doing a decent job because Preston County has only three COVID-19 cases as of Monday evening.

Losing $23,000 in funding will definitely have an impact on the health department. But until he can run the numbers and see how much funding from other sources is coming in versus expenses going out, PCHD director V.J. Davis said he doesn’t know how great that impact will be. He doesn’t think it will result in layoffs or cutting back hours. But to put this in perspective, the funding cut equals about six months of the average Prestonian’s salary.

Realistically, the deficit will have to be absorbed somewhere, and that’s usually done by reducing personnel or limiting services. Regardless, we need our health departments now more than ever. Given the global health crisis, now doesn’t seem like the best time for the commission to make such a drastic cut.