|Funding shortage worries officials|
BY JENNIFER WEAVER|
ENOCH - The shortage of funding for the Southwest Utah Public Health Department is primarily the result of getting too little of the federal funding pie received by the Utah State Health Department for programs, in addition to treating illegal immigrants. That was the message to the The Iron County Coordinating Council in a presentation by Dr. David Blodgett on Wednesday.
For example, the SWUPHD Director and Health Officer said the state receives $5 million per year to administer the immunization programs, but only $60,000 is allocated to the local health department that serves Garfield, Beaver, Iron, Washington and Kane Counties.
"It's very worrisome. We're not doing a good job at keeping up with the immunization rates," Blodgett said.
Illustrating his point was the recent pertussis outbreak, also know as 'whooping cough,' which emerged in Hurricane Valley in a multi-million dollar home enclave involving children and adults in an extended family, he said. A total of 15 pertussis cases were reported with no new cases since Dec. 15, he added.
Though it is enough time to consider the outbreak over, Blodgett said treating the cases cost the public health department money it really did not have to spare.
"We gave care full-time for three people, and part-time for 10, so my estimation is somewhere in the neighborhood of $75,000 to $100,000," Blodgett said. "It's just my guess without having had the opportunity to really crunch the numbers."
Immunization rates in Utah for children under the age of two have dropped to 35 percent, Blodgett said. He credited the low rate in part to a push four years ago for families to get their vaccinations from practicing physicians instead of the public health department.
"We used to administer 90 to 95 percent of immunizations and now we give about 60 percent," he said. "I think there is confusion that is causing people to fall through the cracks."
Iron County Commissioner Lois Bulloch inquired as to why "shot days" no longer take place at public schools. Standing in lines for shots was something she vividly remembered as a child in public school, she said.
Blodgett said the political climate would not support that procedure of the past and additionally said there is a shortage in school nurses with the average cover rate per school nurse ranging from 10,000 to 12,000 students per nurse.
"Public health used to a be universal vaccine endeavor," he said. "It's just not that way any more."
Another funding drain Blodgett said he would to see fixed is the costly services rendered to illegal immigrants permitted by exemption in Senate Bill 81. He said the exemption in the bill - that passed in the Utah Legislature last year - which states in regard to securing public benefits that an adult applicant for such benefits must certify his or her legal presence in the United States under penalty of perjury and subject to other penalties for false statements, should be rescinded.
"I think the public health department should require citizenship to administer any public health services," he said.
A screening process for citizenship is what Blodgett said would help defray the costs that have skyrocketed in treating illegal immigrants. He cited a case in Beryl on a sheep farm where a migrant worker had been diagnosed with tuberculosis. A nurse traveled to the outskirts to treat the individual every day for nine months. The cost ended up being well above $100,000, he said. Six other TB cases in Washington County cost between $30,000 to $50,000 each, all of which were also diagnosed in undocumented immigrants.
"The inequalities it creates in our system are staggering," Blodgett said.
Paragonah Mayor Connie Robinson asked, "Why can't these people get deported?"
Blodgett responded, "We can't get immigration to talk to us."
Amidst the expressed frustrations over finances was good news. A solution Blodgett said the SWUPHD found in saving money was a partnership formed with the Arizona Health Department. SWUPHD closed its Hildale clinic and cases of polygamous wives seeking WIC benefits as single, head of household with children now have to file their applications for the federal program in Arizona.
He additionally said the science of public health is improving and getting better.
"On the horizon is a universal flu vaccine," he said. "You will only have to be vaccinated once and be done."
The ICCC is comprised of mayors, elected officials and other public officials, which meets approximately six times a year to coordinate efforts to best address various issues that impact Iron County.
Originally published January 8, 2009
|For more information email:|