Kentucky’s county health departments have one more year to come up with a $38 million dollar payment into their pension system, following last-minute action by the legislature on Saturday.

But after 10 years of funding cuts, health departments are already stretched thin, and receive almost no general funding from the state. For instance, at the Bourbon County Health Department, Director Drew Beckett said they went from 17 full-time employees five years ago to 13 because of budget cuts. And they still have the same programs, just with fewer workers to run them.

“We’ve been kind of ‘right-sizing’ here for as many years as I’ve been here,” Beckett said.

At the Kentucky River District Health Department in southeast Kentucky, director Scott Lockard said his department’s share of that $38 million payment is $1.5 million dollars. But now, he’ll owe it in July of 2019, instead of this year.

“We will have a pension increase a year from now, but it gives us much more time to put in solutions and deal with that increase,” Lockard said.

To raise that extra money, some county health departments will turn to medical staffing agencies, where a nurse or social worker would no longer be employed by the health department. Some will go to their county board of health to ask for a raise in property taxes to make up the difference.

But others say they’ll be forced to lay off staff, as well as to cut back on services they aren’t mandated to offer under state law.

And in some cases, this could mean cutting or shutting down programs that help prevent disease and promote health in a community.

Cuts Now Could Mean Costs Later

The outcome of those cuts will likely mean an increase in the number of people with diseases and higher medical costs to the health care system. University of Kentucky researcher Glen Mays recently published a study looking at a thousand communities across the country, and how much money they put toward public health.

“Those communities that were able to spend more and increase spending, they saw significant reductions in mortality, and particularly in deaths from potentially preventable causes,” Mays said.

And last year, Mays published another study showing a relationship between an…

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Mayra Rodriguez

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Mayra Rodriguez
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