Critical public health services are at risk

When public health does its job, we don’t notice it.

We often take for granted the fact that our state and local health departments protect us in hundreds of ways – big and small – every single day.

Public health ensures the safety of our drinking water, food, and the air we breathe. Advancements in public health, such as vaccines and tobacco prevention, are credited with added 25 years to our life expectancy. Every day, thousands of public health employees go to work in order to keep us all healthy..

Public health monitors and responds to disease outbreaks, provides health warnings, and works to give all children a healthy start.

When disaster strikes, public health is there as a first responder—working alongside fire fighters and police:

• In Oso, state and county public health employees kept first responders and the surrounding community safe by testing and monitoring water quality in wells and potentially toxic materials in the slide zone.

• During the Carlton Complex fire – the largest wildfire in state history – public health monitored air quality and water systems, and distributed 10,000 masks to the community to reduce exposure to airborne toxins.

• Public health agencies in several counties coordinated the response to a measles outbreak which turned into an 18-year high in the number of measles cases in Washington state. The agencies worked together to provide timely public alerts to limit the spread of the disease, and mobilized a response that included testing and vaccination for potentially exposed members of the public.

Whether keeping us healthy in our daily lives or providing emergency response or disease tracking in a crisis, public health is critical to our communities. But these vital services are in jeopardy.

Public health relies on a patchwork of federal, state, and local funding sources. Recent loss of state and federal funding has jeopardized important public health services across our state:

• Public health nurses no longer visit vulnerable mothers in the weeks after they give birth in Grays Harbor County.

• Grant County residents no longer have access to most immunization and TB clinics.

• In King County, four public health clinics may close meaning more than 37,000 people will lose access to health care, including family planning services.

A deadlocked Congress has put additional services at risk with sequestration and budget austerity measures that have resulted in devastating cuts to state and local public health programs.

America is at a tipping point. Our nation is at risk of losing successful programs that prevent illness and death, as well as emergency response services. Funding levels are too low to maintain current public health services, and the health of our growing population is at risk.

It’s time to protect health strategies and encourage innovative solutions to new health problems. For our elected officials the message is clear: Renew and prioritize public health funding.

The future of our nation’s health is depending on it.