WA health secretary: State funding to prevent spread of infectious disease falls short

Washington state Health Secretary John Wiesman says the state is drastically underfunding basic public health services that hampers monitoring and preventing the spread of infectious disease.

Sexually transmitted disease rates have been rising in Washington for several years, but Wiesman said most health districts have had to prioritize syphilis and HIV, and don’t have the staff to follow up on chlamydia or gonorrhea infections, or even hepatitis cases.

The Department of Health received $58 million from the state general fund and $81 million in other state funds for fiscal year 2016, and has a $1.2 billion operating budget for the 2017-19 biennium, almost half of which comes from federal funding. Two-thirds of that funding is passed along to local health departments and community groups for services.

Wiesman said the department was short $350 million per biennium to be able to adequately perform its key work. In addition, programs and funds to help people quit smoking have been eroding for years, and Wiesman says suicide prevention is also underfunded.

While Washington has expanded its local suicide hotline call centers, 30 percent of calls to the National Suicide Hotline are still routed outside the state, and there are no call centers in Eastern Washington. Health workers have also been pushed to respond to opioid overdoses and addiction, with the result being that they have little time for prevention work.

Washington has 35 local health agencies, most serving individual counties. Those agencies receive funding from the Department of Health, as well as other state and federal dollars, and fees for services provided. (Spokesman-Review)

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