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Possible state shutdown puts local public health at risk

June 18, 2015

Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department develops contingency plans for reduced funding

TACOMA, Wash. – What happens when our politicians in Olympia can’t reach a compromise on a budget? The trickle down in lost services hits closer to home than you may think. Not only does a possible state government shutdown impact state agencies. It also puts local public health services at risk.

If the state legislature fails to pass a budget by June 30, the immediate impact to Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department would be a 38 percent reduction in state and federal pass through grants that support its $31 million budget. Today, to prepare for this possible funding cut, the Department notified 29 employees that they will be laid off on July 1.

“Our community members will experience an interruption in important services that protect their health and safety unless our legislators pass a state budget by June 30,” said Director of Health, Anthony L-T Chen, MD, MPH. “One third of our staff will be affected and one in nine will be laid off. We respectfully ask our legislators to pass a budget so we can return our focus to serving our residents,” said Chen.

If the state government shut down occurs, residents will see a suspension of public health services such as monitoring for sewage contamination in marine waters and for water quality at lakes and recreational beaches; inspecting public water systems to ensure a safe and reliable source of drinking water; investigation of sexually transmitted diseases; sampling for contaminated soils in North Tacoma; response to hazardous chemical spills and drug lab contaminated property; and nursing and support services for new mothers and their infants. Grants from departments of health, ecology and social and health services, as well as Health Care Authority support these local public health services.

Preparing for the possibility of a shutdown also comes with a price. The Department estimates staff members have invested more than 100 hours of time determining impacts of a state shutdown and developing contingency plans. If a layoff occurs the Department may also see an increase in future unemployment insurance premium rates.

“Even a temporary layoff causes a discontinuation or curtailing of services in 11 of our programs, and this puts our community’s public health at risk,” said Chen. “This budget uncertainty creates a difficult work environment and is a distraction from the important work of the Department.”

If any shut down would last longer than two weeks, the Department would have to lay off more people, effective July 15.

A shutdown would also impact Health Department community partners who receive funding directly from the state, causing further damage to Pierce County’s health services safety net.

Edie Jeffers, Communications Manager (253) 798-2853, (253) 405-6822 (cell/text),

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