Serious Risks to Public Health and Safety Posed by State Budget – Please Contact Your Senator

The proposed Senate budget, released yesterday, poses serious risks to public health and safety.  Core public health protections which are already funded at dangerously low levels would receive additional cuts under the proposal.  This includes funding for environmental health, food protection, health care safety, and the State Lab and communicable disease control response.

Please join us in calling on the Senate to provide adequate funding to protect the public health.  A list of priority amendments are here (MPHA FY14 Senate Amendment Priorities) and are below.

Senators have until 3pm tomorrow, Friday May 17th, to sign onto these amendments as a co-sponsor.  You can find your Senator’s contact information here. If you don’t know who your Senator is, please click here.

A May 14th article from the Boston Globe, “State Health Inspections Backlogged Months as Department Pleads for Money,” details some of the capacity gaps in these essential programs due to years of extensive budget cuts.  For example, DPH employs fewer than 50% the number of food inspectors recommended by the Food and Drug Administration, and there is a backlog of more than five months for investigating problems reported in Massachusetts hospitals, nursing homes, dialysis centers, and clinics.

Why should everyone care about public health protections?

  • We all rely on public health protections each and every day. Public health provides protections that we all rely on every day, though we seldom pause to think about – things like inspections of health care facilities, pharmacies, food safety assurance, and prompt response to infectious disease to avoid outbreaks.
  • Staffing cuts over the last 5 years have created a dangerous situation. This type of infrastructure is not sexy, but we all rely on it every day.  Due to severe funding constraints over the last five years, this system is intensely strained and poses unacceptable risks to the public.
  • Proposed Senate Ways and Means cuts would increase the risk. Senate Ways and Means (SWM) funding levels would impose further cuts below even the level needed to maintain the current, inadequate level of services.  This will lead to approximately 23 additional layoffs of inspectional and regulatory staff, and the inability to hire more than two dozen necessary positions to address current capacity gaps that pose a risk to the public.
  • We must act before the next crisis hits.  Further cuts, piled upon chronic underfunding, leave Massachusetts wide open to another crisis that could affect the health and safety of our residents.  We must learn our lesson and provide proper staffing for our essential public health protections before further harm is caused.

For additional information on these amendments or for other questions about state public health funding, please contact Maddie Ribble at mribble@mphaweb.org.

Thank you for your advocacy!

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Please Ask Your Senator To Co-Sponsor Amendments to Ensure a Strong Public Health System

1. Environmental Public Health Services (4510-0600)
Please co-sponsor Senator Keenan’s amendment to fund this account at $4,391,414

The Bureau of Environmental Health safeguards many of the most basic structures we rely on daily – the quality of the air we breathe, safety of the food we eat, cleanliness of the water we drink, and minimization of harmful exposures including pesticides and radiation. These programs – cut by 18% since FY09 – have been chronically underfunded. Proposed SWM funding would lead to the loss of 3 FTEs and the inability to hire an additional 16.5FTEs necessary to address capacity gaps.  Impacts of past cuts include:

  • The elimination of more than 50% of the food inspectors who conduct inspections of food manufacturers and wholesale establishments, a staffing level that is half of the federal FDA performance standard.  There has also been a significant reduction in monitoring and support for local board of health inspections of restaurants.  A report by the State Auditor in 2007 found severe deficiencies in food protection activities; current funding levels are below those at the time of the report’s release.
  • A significant backlog of requests for indoor air quality assessments at elementary and middle schools, as well as other public facilities with potentially-dangerous air quality due to mold and other contaminants.  There is typically a backlog of several dozen requests from across the state.
  • Additional gaps exist in inspections of medical and biologic waste, recreational beaches, lead in housing, and industrial x-rays and lasers.

2. Food Protection Program Retained Revenue (4510-0020)
Please co-sponsor Senator Creem’s amendment to fund this account at $233,000

This account allows DPH to retain inspectional fees from the food protection program in order to respond to new state and federal laws aimed at enhancing food safety.  The SWM budget would eliminate this account, which would lead to the elimination of 5 FTEs.

3. Health Care Safety and Quality (4510-0710)
Please co-sponsor Senator Keenan’s amendment to fund this account at $7,826,326

The Bureau of Health Care Quality and Improvement is central to the state’s goal of promoting health care cost containment and high quality care.  Cuts totaling 27% since FY09 have left serious gaps in capacity to inspect, license, and respond to complaints at health care facilities, as well as to perform new responsibilities mandated under the 2012 cost containment law. DPH currently licenses more than 6,000 health care facilities and handles approximately 14,000 consumer complaints each year. There is currently a 5 month backlog of complaints, which can jeopardize patient safety and result in uncoordinated inspections in which investigators are unaware of pending complaints against facilities.  Proposed SWM funding would lead the elimination of 2 positions, as well as the inability to hire 8 additional staff to provide additional inspectional and enforcement capacity.

4. State Laboratory and Communicable Disease Control (4516-1000)
Please co-sponsor Senator Donnelly’s amendment to fund this account at $15,200,000

The State Lab is responsible for:

  • testing of samples for influenza, tuberculosis, salmonella, lead poisoning, bioterror agents, food and insect-borne diseases, and other hazards
  • routine surveillance and quality assurance of disease reporting by physicians, hospitals and laboratories
  • training in disease surveillance, reporting criteria, data quality, investigation, and control for local health departments
  • investigation of and intervention in response to disease outbreaks
  • helping local health departments respond to communicable disease threats

The Hinton Lab is comprised of 17 separate laboratories.  Since revelations about misconduct at the drug lab (now housed with the State Police) surfaced, the independent Association of Public Health Laboratories, as well as federal agencies, have conducted inspections and assessed the procedures and quality assurance protocols at the 17 remaining labs.  All have been found to be operating at high level of quality and fully up to professional standards.  The lab has been cut by 23% cut since FY09.  Proposed SWM funding levels would lead to the elimination of 2 positions, and the inability to hire 2 new positions.

5. Public Health Critical Operations and Essential Services (4510-0100)
Please co-sponsor Senator Keenan’s amendment to fund this account at $18,756,508

This line item – cut 18% since FY09 – supports critical DPH services and staff across the Department, including emergency preparedness, environmental health assessments, implementation and enforcement of regulations, reducing disparities in health care, and monitoring and inspections of nursing homes, food safety, and water quality.  Additional capacity is needed to address the development and enforcement of legally mandated public health regulations, including new regulatory responsibilities for pharmacies and health professionals.  Proposed SWM funding levels would lead to the elimination of 6 legal and regulatory positions that serve the environmental health and health care quality units within DPH, as well as the inability to hire 4 new positions.

For additional information, please contact Maddie Ribble at 617-697-2107 or mribble@mphaweb.org.

One Comment on “Serious Risks to Public Health and Safety Posed by State Budget – Please Contact Your Senator

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