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Public Health Services in Jeopardy if No Deal on State Budget

Jun 22, 2017

TACOMA, Wash.– If lawmakers in Olympia fail to pass a budget by June 30, county residents would begin to see disruptions to essential public health services on July 1. Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department has contingency plans in case state funding ends because of a state government shutdown.

Without a state budget by the deadline, the Health Department would temporarily lay off 42 staff members who serve in 14 programs. Public Health Emergency Preparedness and Response, STD/HIV disease investigation, Tacoma Smelter Plume/Dirt Alert, and maternal and child health are among those programs. Other areas of work that rely on the state laboratories to detect and confirm diseases and water contamination would be hampered.

“Even a temporary delay in state funding damages our ability to protect the public’s health,” said Director of Health, Anthony L-T Chen, MD, MPH. “This political impasse puts the health and safety of our residents at risk,” said Chen.

A partial state government shutdown would disrupt disease investigation and water quality testing work here in Pierce County. This limits the public health system’s ability to control disease outbreaks like tuberculosis, mumps, E. coli, and whooping cough and delays testing for bacterial water contamination, which can affect local shellfish growing and harvesting.

How state funding cuts would affect the Department’s ability to serve Pierce County residents

People with gonorrhea, syphilis, and chlamydia and their potentially exposed partners would not get tested because the Department’s ability to investigate sexually transmitted infections would drop by 50%. They would remain unaware of their infections and untreated, likely causing permanent health consequences. This would likely raise Pierce County’s already high STD rates, which disproportionately affect low-income and minority populations.

The public would be at risk of consuming unsafe shellfish and swimming in unsafe beaches. Staff would not monitor for contamination at recreational shellfish harvesting beaches or ensure safe water quality at swimming beaches. Staff could still post for toxic algae but could not ensure testing for contamination, so advisories would remain in place.

Home visits to ensure women have healthy pregnancies and babies get a healthy start in life would stop. The Department would lose 11 nurses who work with vulnerable families in need of pre-natal and early childhood parenting support. Their clients would risk premature birth, low birth weight, bad pregnancy outcome, and child abuse and neglect.

Children would go without basic dental care like treatment for tooth decay, and preventative care like tooth sealants. They might suffer pain needlessly, miss school, and get poor grades. The current rate of Pierce County children with untreated tooth decay is 11% and falling. A funding disruption could reverse this trend.

If the shutdown would last longer than two weeks, the Department would have to lay off more people effective July 15. At that time, the impacts would spread to additional services, such as food service establishment inspection and permitting, septic, water and well inspection and permitting, and support services.

Preparing for the possibility of a shutdown pulls Department staff members away from other essential public health work. Planning for temporary layoffs includes developing staffing scenarios to minimize service interruptions but must also account for state grant funding formulas, the Department’s Collective Bargaining Agreement with three unions, and other implications.

The affected state funding comprises approximately $8 million, or 23%, of the Health Department’s 2017 budget, which is about $34.5 million.

About Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department: Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department’s mission is to protect and improve the health of all people and places in Pierce County. As part of our mission, the Health Department tackles known and emerging health risks through policy, programs and treatment in order to protect public health. We are one of only 163 accredited health departments in the country and among six in the state to have met or exceeded the Public Health Accreditation Board’s quality standards. Learn more at

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