District health director discusses funding issues
by Sarah Fay Campbell
Coweta County’s health department and public health agencies around the state are having to do more with less.
“We need your help,” Dr. Olugbenga Obasanjo, district health director for District Four Public Health, which covers Coweta and several other counties, told the Coweta County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday.
Between 2008 and now, the population of District 4 increased about 24 percent. Yet public health funding has been cut significantly in that time. Several clinics have been closed, staffing is down and employee hours are down.
In 2008, the district had 316 full-time employees. Now, there are 255. In 2008, there were “2,080 hours per year per employee,” Obasanjo said. Now, it’s 1,508.
Approximately 23 percent of the experienced nursing workforce, mostly in management, will be retiring in the next five years, Obasanjo said. And 26 percent of the current nursing staff has been in public health for five years or less.
There are many aspects to public health. They include offering immunizations and information as well as dealing with disease outbreaks.
Last year, when there was a tuberculosis scare in Coweta, “for a period of about a week, all of the resources in the health department were just pulled away,” Obasanjo said.
A few weeks ago, when a mysterious white substance showed up at a local office, “we were ready to activate. That was a potential emergency,” Obasanjo said.
Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport could be the scene of a public health disaster at almost any time.
Currently, there is an outbreak of the deadly ebola virus in West Africa. If Obasanjo was to visit there for his sister's wedding in a few weeks, he could bring the virus right back here, creating a public health emergency.
Obasanjo said he’d like to see something like a $1 surcharge on every plane ticket that would be used to fund public health.
“If we were able to get more resources, able to get more personnel, we would be able to do a lot more, and be ready for more emergencies,” Obasanjo said. “They will happen.”
The federal Affordable Care Act is expected to help public health funding, because more people coming in for services will have insurance.
However, Obasanjo expects state funding for certain mandated services will go away, as more and more people have health insurance. For instance, tuberculosis treatment is paid for by the state, as a public health service. So are some immunizations.
But with the ACA, “theoretically everybody who walks into any health care facility is supposed to have some form of insurance,” he said. “Why should the state pay for it?"