Cuts to Local Health Departments Hurt Communities

Release Date: November 14, 2013 | By Sharyn Alden, HBNS Contributing Writer
Research Source: American Journal of Preventive Medicine

KEY POINTS

  • Local health departments help to provide access to care for underserved populations.
  • In 2010, about 28 percent of local health departments surveyed were not evaluating gaps in care, not increasing access to services, or using strategies to expand access
  • Local health departments located in larger metro areas with more funding were more likely to provide access to health services than those located in smaller areas with less funding.
Follow us on Facebook

Local health departments (LHDs) can play pivotal roles in U.S. communities by helping to link people with medical services and assuring access to care when it is otherwise unavailable. However, a new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine finds that many LHDs aren’t able to meet these goals, which could spell trouble for the uninsured and underinsured.  

“Our report shows that in 2010, about 28 percent of LHDs had not conducted any of the three targeted activities in our study,” which looked at how LHDs assessed gaps in care, increased access to health services and used strategies to meet the health needs of the underserved, said lead author Huabin Luo, Ph.D, former research fellow with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  and assistant professor in the department of public health at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University.

In recent years, deep funding cuts have impacted local health departments. For example, between 2008 and 2009 alone, over 23,000 LHD jobs were eliminated. This combined with an increase in demand for health care services can mean an increase in health disparities for those who rely on community health care.

The study found that LHDs with larger budgets in bigger population centers were more likely to provide access to health services compared to smaller LHDs with fewer financial resources, where they may be needed more.

Laura Hanen, chief of government and public affairs at the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO), says that assuring access to care is complex and often out of the hands of LHDs in terms of the availability of providers and financial resources to care for uninsured. She explained LHDs do not receive sufficient resources to consistently carry out their core functions. “They are primarily supported through categorical disease funding, leaving them to support essential public services on the margins.”

Luo said the study may shine a light on what is needed to improve LHD services. “More support is needed for small local health departments with fewer financial resources to bridge the gap in providing access to care. If people cannot get proper care on time, their health conditions may get worse, they may end up in ERs and hospitalization will cost more.”  

Hanen noted that as health insurance coverage becomes more widespread, LHDs will continue to identify and link people without health insurance to programs that provide health care services. “It cannot be overstated enough that poor housing, education, low income, unemployment and lack of transportation in a neighborhood are all interconnected and are all factors that determine health.”

TERMS OF USE: This story is protected by copyright. When reproducing any material, including interview excerpts, attribution to the Health Behavior News Service, part of the Center for Advancing Health, is required. While the information provided in this news story is from the latest peer-reviewed research, it is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment recommendations. For medical questions or concerns, please consult a health care provider.

For More Information:

Reach the Health Behavior News Service, part of the Center for Advancing Health, at (202) 387-2829 or hbns-editor@cfah.org.

American Journal of Preventive Medicine: Contact the editorial office at (858) 534-9340 or eAJPM@ucsd.edu.

huabin luo, PhD; Sergey Sotnikov, PhD; Gulzar Shah, PhD, (2013). Local Health Department Activities to Assure Access to Care

Tags for this article:
Health Care Access   Health Care Cost   Find Good Health Care   Health Care Quality   Health Disparities   Environment and Health  



Comments on this article
Please note: CFAH reserves the right to moderate all comments posted to the Health Behavior News Service. Any inappropriate postings will be removed.

No comments have been entered yet.