Opinion

Don’t take Public Health for granted | Editorial

Public Health is largely misunderstood.

This is probably because the face of Public Health, what services it provides and how it pays for services have morphed dramatically over the years.

But what hasn’t changed is the need to appreciate and financially support Public Health and its contribution to our community.

What began as the military-focused Marine Hospital Service became the Public Health and Marine Hospital Service in 1902 in recognition of its expanding role in public health.

The name was shortened to Public Health Service in 1912.

This branch of government was charged, in part, to handle the series of contagious outbreaks that plagued the 20th century, a result of growing cities after the industrial revolution.

Yellow fever, bubonic plague and typhoid fever are just a few of the illnesses that took hundreds of thousands of lives.

As a result, the early role of public health was basic sanitation and distribution of vaccines.

With attention turned to health, nurses were assigned to public schools and food inspections were initiated. Resources were dedicated to researching cures for diseases like polio and scientific findings helped shape public policies.

Scientists discovered the importance of nutrition and its role in causing diseases like pellegra and rickets.

Through the national Public Health Service, which was implemented through local offices, our health as a country improved and our food and water became safer.

This is the purpose of Public Health.

But its growing efficacy had a down side. Once diseases were controlled and safety measures implemented, national funding sources to local offices have been cut back to almost nothing over the years. The national focus has shifted to pre-emptive programs like the Women, Infants and Children (WIC), and big picture agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration.

Still, local offices have found creative ways to continue traditional Public Health services, and have expanded to include septic inspections, aquifer monitoring, HIV/AIDS testing and education, smoking cessation programs and many others.

This all takes money.

And with rising costs and unpredictable revenue sources such as grants and fees for services, the Island County Health Department, like most health departments throughout the state, are struggling.

Island County Public Health Director Keith Higman has said that, to continue to provide these services, his department needs dedicated funding from a federal, state or county source.

Island County Commissioners Helen Price Johnson and Jill Johnson agree that money is needed to fill the gap, but have yet to discuss possible solutions, which might include new county or state funding.

As they approach this year’s budget cycle, commissioners need to take a hard look at the role Public Health can and should play in the role of Island County residents.

Some might say that Public Health is a waste of money or that scientific advances have eliminated the need for these services.

This is not the case.

Recent outbreaks of H1N1 and pertussis underline the unpredictability of a public health crisis and the importance of having qualified staff ready to handle CDC recommendations. As many in the world struggle to find clean drinking water, we enjoy the safe and clear product of our water testing programs. Offering assistance to mothers to promote pre-natal care and good parenting is an investment in our future.

For these reasons, none of us should take our health — or the programs that help us remain healthy — for granted.

 

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