Dubuque County supervisors have asked local public health officials to ask for additional funds in the department’s budget request to make up for declining revenue from the state.
Supervisors recently met with Dubuque County Health Department officials as they prepare the budget for fiscal year 2021, which begins July 1. Supervisors will finalize and present the completed budget in March.
Patrice Lambert, the health department’s executive director, said the county has had to make do without funds from the Iowa Department of Public Health’s Bureau of Emergency and Trauma Services’ Emergency Preparedness Program grants.
Through those grants, local governments are able to stock and train for epidemics and other threats.
“Were we to see a coronavirus outbreak, for instance,” Lambert said.
The new coronavirus has sickened more than 60,000 people, primarily in China, and has been declared a public health emergency by the World Health Organization. Fifteen cases have been reported in the United States.
Lambert said her department recently took inventory of its supplies to respond to an outbreak should it occur locally.
“We have a trailer stockpiled,” Lambert said. “We have cots, tie-back suits. We have a lot of equipment.”
Unfortunately, most of that equipment is five years old or older, she said. That means best practices state the equipment should be replaced.
“The supplies we have on-hand are likely out-of-date,” Lambert said.
The aforementioned grant funds could have been used to replace that equipment. However, in the current fiscal year, the IDPH did not award Dubuque County money from that funding pool, and that will be the case again this coming fiscal year.
However, Lambert requested no county money to fill that gap. That disappointed Supervisor Ann McDonough.
“The state’s not funding it, so we should fund it,” she said. “We should be running those for long-term health, whether the state is going to partner or not. Ask us to make that decision if it is a high priority for you. The state money comes and goes. That’s part of the story. This need is still here.”
The loss of these grant funds is not the only decrease in state funding in recent years.
Supervisor Jay Wickham pointed out that the local health department predicts a $111,000 decrease in revenue.
“That’s 25% of your revenue,” he said. “We should probably drill down on that and find what the impact is.”
Lambert said not asking for more county funding has become the modus operandi for her department.
“After years of doing this, when the state starts cutting back and cutting back, you don’t cut back what you’re doing,” she said. “We’re just doing more work with less money.”
Lambert said it would make the lives of her and her few employees much better to not lose any more.
“It’s not that we’re lacking our services,” she said. “We’re lacking a staff.”