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COVID Emergency Exposes the Need for More Public Health Funding

Public health agencies have been understaffed and underfunded in the past decade or longer, a problem highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic. PHI’s Dr. Lynn Silver comments on concerns about the state of underfunded public health systems and ways California can improve public health funding, particularly to address longstanding health inequities.

Health advocates concerned about the state of underfunded public health systems see the coronavirus pandemic as their best chance of turning things around.

Lynn Silver
We are hoping that our state legislators will recognize the urgency. If they don’t recognize it now, I don’t know when they will.

Dr. Lynn Silver, Public Health Institute

Public health agencies have been understaffed and underfunded in the past decade or longer, a problem highlighted when coronavirus spread and infected 3.7 million people in California, resulting in 61,500 deaths.

Public health agencies work on tracking and controlling contagious disease, investigate health hazards, promote health education and develop policies to improve community health.

Silver said over the decades money has primarily gone to health care, to care for the sick and pay for treatment, while far less has been devoted to prevention and safeguarding the public against major health emergencies.

With the pandemic slowing down, there’s a push for funding to expand public health systems across the nation, in California and counties like Stanislaus, so there is better preparation for the next crisis. For the general public, it could mean fewer lockdowns next time and less sickness and death.

Given its wealth and medical expertise, the United States should have been able respond to COVID-19, Silver said, but the nation was vulnerable due to poorly funded health departments and communities with high rates of chronic disease. In a joint project, Kaiser Health News and the Associated Press reported that spending for local health departments nationally declined by 18 percent in the past decade and almost 40,000 public health jobs at the state and local levels evaporated after 2008.

“Some countries like Taiwan could respond to COVID because they had strong public health systems ready to go,” Silver said.

Silver also said there is bipartisan support for California Assembly Bill 1038 to establish a $180 million California Health Equity Fund to support projects that mitigate health and social impacts in low-income communities.

Click below to read the full article in the Modesto Bee.

Originally published by Modesto Bee

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