In time of lean budgets, investing in public health still good for our nation

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Dallas County Hospital. Photo courtesy city of Perry

It happens every day. Public health workers protect the health of people and the communities where we live, learn, work and play. They contribute to better health for all of us — improving access to vaccines, planning for public health emergencies, preventing infectious disease and lead poisoning and developing programs that ensure easy access to healthy food and physical activity.

But public health needs strong investments to continue to protect our health and well-being. Unfortunately, the progress we’ve made is at risk. We are on a path of disinvestment and unstable funding for these proven community-based health programs.

We’ve seen public health programs at the U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Health Resources and Services Administration and other public health agencies impacted by spending caps and austerity measures. These budget cuts limit our ability to carry out successful local and state efforts, from preventing childhood lead poisoning to reducing infant mortality, curbing tobacco use and lowering obesity rates.

Without these necessary resources, it is hard to maintain the work currently being done and nearly impossible to support new programs to keep pace with the evolving needs of our communities. What’s more, deep cuts to the federal budget are often compounded by reductions to state and local budgets.

Our nation’s potential to thrive is undermined when communities are not healthy and well.

Adequately funding our public health system is critical to protecting Americans’ health every day, and it saves millions of lives. The future of our nation’s health depends on a strong and properly equipped public health infrastructure at the community level — all across Iowa and in cities and towns across the country.

Traditionally, federal, state and local funding has been directed toward the treatment of disease, while funding for prevention has steadily decreased. But efforts are being made to change these funding priorities. The office of the Assistant Secretary for Health of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is leading the Public Health 3.0 initiative.

Public Health 3.0, along with the CDC’s Health Improvement in Five Years plan, calls for an increase in flexible and sustainable funding, for community-wide approaches and for solidifying strategic partnerships that support improved health outcomes for the population.

In Iowa, building an improved system for health with a focus on preventing chronic disease and supporting healthy behavior is a priority. In lieu of national funding, investments in prevention from health care partners, managed care organizations, private foundations, local governments and statewide leaders will ensure that Iowa’s communities are among the healthiest in the nation and enjoy the highest quality of life.

It’s time that our nation’s health is made a priority. For local, state and federal leaders, the message is clear: Your commitment to investing in public health is fundamental to our pursuit of achieving a stronger and healthier nation.

Shelley Horak, MPH, CHES, CPM has served as the Executive Director of Dallas County Public Health Nursing Services since October 2013. She is also part-time faculty at Des Moines University and Academic Advisor with the Master of Public Health Program. Horak has served on the Iowa Public Health Association board of directors since 2015.

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