One of Spokane’s highest priorities for the 2017 state legislative session should be this community’s full support for increased funding to public health throughout the state, which will, by proxy, benefit all of us locally.  

From disease control and prevention, to restaurant inspections, health education, immunizations, and much more, Spokane Regional Health District is our local public health agency, providing nearly 40 different programs and services to a population of more than 475,000 in Spokane County.  

The health district is joining its 34 peers from across the state in a pitch by Washington State Department of Health (DOH) to legislators for $60 million in increased financial support from the state for public health—$50 million of which will be allocated directly to local public health agencies like Spokane Regional Health District. The remaining $10 million is slated for integral DOH programs and facilities and funds to develop pilot programs to modernize public health delivery.  

With a combined biennial shortfall of $400 million in core public health services, $60 million seems more than reasonable. It is also a sum that recognizes the financial constraints the state faces in amply funding K-12 education, as well as resolving a mental health services crisis and other needs.  

Simply put, this $60 million legislative ask equates to money that funnels directly into our community to help shield us from diseases and reinforce the health district’s response to outbreaks like mumps, which currently stands at xxx cases locally and xxx cases statewide. As more complications from the mumps outbreak are confirmed, mostly among children—Washington State Department of Health already reported 14 cases with inflammation of one or both testicles, which can lead to infertility; as well as four cases with hearing loss—some residents remain skeptical about the severity of the disease or the significance of ending the outbreak. Perhaps an outbreak like influenza, which this flu season already claimed 12 local residents’ lives and 221 lives statewide, is more convincing for skeptics in terms of a need to secure these funds for local public health.  

Incidentally, these funds are also crucial to preventing injuries to Spokane residents, as well as preventing chronic diseases, which continue to be a major concern here, with unacceptably high rates of diabetes, heart disease and stroke. The health district would use an infusion of state funds to bolster efforts like its community health worker initiative, where trained workers live in low-income housing properties to provide education and coaching to residents to stop smoking, get more physical activity and eat healthier—all of which are steps proven to reduce hypertension, prediabetes, diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer. Ten low-income housing properties sit on a wait list, wishing to engage in this low-cost, evidence-based method of chronic disease prevention.  

Adjusted for inflation and population growth, per capita funding for public health services like these has declined in our county in recent years. In response to that challenge, the last state budget included a proviso directing public health leaders to conduct a study of our state’s public health system and to propose solutions. This legislative ask is the result of that work to identify a core set of services that only government public health can provide and that should be paid for by the state. From there, the gap in funding needed to provide these services was identified. The funds requested only scratch the surface in that they merely cover those services that are the most critical and the most underfunded.  

In addition to the budget ask, complementary policy bills are working through both houses to define Foundational Public Health Services (FPHS), those core services that government should be responsible for providing.  

A 12-member board of health is the governing body of the health district, uniting the cities and county in a cooperative effort to oversee all matters pertaining to public health, according to state law. One of those board members is Title, First Name Last Name who speculates  

“An epidemic of disease or a contaminated food outbreak costs us all. We pay more to contain a public health crisis rather than preventing one. An ounce of prevention saves money for taxpayers, businesses, and all of us in the long run.”  

It’s a way of thinking that makes sense to Title, First Name Last Name, who previously served on the health district’s board.  

“We will have xxxxx more people in the region by 2025. We’re already below the baseline of funding necessary to protect our current number of residents. Bolstering our public health services means we can better monitor and coordinate public health responses – keeping our families and communities safe, reducing costs for taxpayers, and protecting our local economy,” said Last Name.

We understand that this is a tough budget year for the state, but epidemics and food and water contamination won’t wait patiently until the state has a budget surplus. That’s why we need the state to approve and fund the new FPHS program so that counties can provide these essential, core services.