May 15, 2010
LIMA — The bleeding has begun at the Allen County Health Department, and officials suspect there will be more to come.
Health Department board members were told Friday that the state has reconfigured its placement of disease intervention specialists, all but doing away with the position locally. Under the new guidelines, the person formerly charged with investigating cases of HIV and syphilis in a seven-county area around Lima now will cover 21.
“I think we’ll only really appreciate the effect that has as time goes on,” said Becky Dershem, director of nursing for the Allen County Health Department. “We have been traumatized by a rather lengthy outbreak of syphilis in the past. Being able to identify people at risk is always helpful.”
Between 1992 and 1995, Allen County reported 88 cases of syphilis, Dershem said.
With state and local budgets in turmoil, almost every public service body is facing cuts. But most suspect they will be going deeper as the year rolls out. The department’s general revenue funds consist largely of money from grants that are perpetually at risk of being slashed. Dershem saw $175,000 cut from her budget alone last year.
“I’m at people now. There’s nothing else left. If we have to make cuts in the future, it will mean jobs,” Dershem said.
All these cuts come at a time when an increasing number of people are depending on public health resources. The Health Department still provides many of what Dershem calls safety net services — family planning, sexually transmitted disease clinics and immunization clinics — but what services will be available in the future is up in the air.
“I really am concerned about what will happen. I’m not sure what the future holds,” Dershem said. “I’m being pretty much told there will be cuts. The only variable right now is how deep those cuts will be.”