SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KGET) — Public health officials and some state lawmakers are urging Gov. Gavin Newsom and the California Legislature to provide money to boost workforces in public health departments across the state.
“The biggest lesson of COVID-19 is that waiting until a crisis to invest in public health costs lives,” said Elsa Jimenez, the health director of the Monterey County Health Department.
“We have to reinvest. We have to rebuild,” said Assemblyman Jim Wood, D-Santa Rosa.
Public health departments have been a primary focal point amid the COVID-19 pandemic and have been at the helm of California’s response to COVID-19.
On Wednesday, a group of public health officials asked for $200 million in the state budget to help build up under-resourced and understaffed departments.
“Even before COVID, our infectious disease response has always been short-staffed and dealing with high burnout. Basically, we have an endless cycle,” explained public health nurse Augustin Rucobo.
Other health officials shared examples of departments having doctors fax out COVID-19 test results because of outdated technology. others say some public health offices are only able to investigate a small fraction of diseases reported in their county.
Assembly Budget Chair Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, says the Legislature is proposing direct funding to public health officials.
“It’s very, very clear that public health infrastructure was not up to snuff for a pandemic,” Ting said.
Newsom left out the funding boost from his revised $268 billion budget and says his administration would provide for public health by proposing a significant expansion to the state’s health insurance program along with more money for public hospitals and mental health.
“There’s a lot to celebrate,” Newsom said.
“This is not the same thing,” said state Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento. “This is a core government function of public safety and I think people forget about that.”
The administration is eyeing new funds for local public health but not until next year.
Newsom is proposing a $3 million study to nail down the needs and lessons learned for public health in the pandemic.