Public health fund has lasting impact on lives of Owen citizens

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Guest Column by Katie Gilson - Three Rivers District Health Department

Everyone knows that eating healthy foods and getting regular exercise are crucial to a healthy lifestyle. We know that smoking puts us at risk for preventable diseases and that quitting helps lessen those risks. These facts are common knowledge today because of the decades of work local health departments and other public health agencies have done to arm us with the information and resources we need to make healthy choices.
As a nation, the investments we make in public health and disease prevention save thousands of lives each year. They also save millions of dollars by reducing health care costs and keeping Americans healthier and more productive. Students cannot learn effectively if they go to school sick or undernourished. Employees cannot perform at peak capacity if they are absent or in pain. In Kentucky, chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes and heart disease cost about $4.7 billion for treatment, and an additional $16.9 billion in lost productivity.  These are expenses no one can afford, especially in times of economic uncertainty.
The House of Representatives voted recently to repeal the Prevention and Public Health Fund, an unprecedented advancement of prevention and public health activities at the federal, state, and local level, and an important investment in the long-term viability of our nation’s public health system. The fund provides $15 billion over 10 years for communities in every state to put in place immunization clinics, tobacco prevention programs, and other proven services that will help address their most pressing health challenges.
Just look at the Cooper/Clayton Method to Stop Smoking in Owen County. It is an effective program that uses nicotine replacement therapy, education, and social support to help participants become nonsmokers. Studies have shown that 45 percent of Cooper/Clayton participants remain smoke-free after one year.  Nearly all of them continue to be nonsmokers five years later.  
 This and other programs like it are vital commitments to the future health of the individuals and families in our community.
Local health departments, with our distinctive role and responsibilities in the larger health system, work every day to transform today’s “sick care” system into a true “health” system that protects people from getting sick in the first place. But annual reductions in public health funding threaten the important strides being made. A recent study by the National Association of County and City Health Officials found that roughly 19 percent of the nationwide local health department workforce has been eliminated since 2008, even as the country’s worst economic recession in decades has increased demand for essential services.
Eliminating the Prevention and Public Health Fund is not only short-sighted, it would damage the short- and long-term health and economic vitality of Owenton and the country. Good health is essential to everyone’s quality of life and we rely on local health departments to keep us safe and healthy in an ever-changing environment. If Congress is serious about curbing health care spending and permanently bolstering the national economy, it must invest in the health of every American now by voting to save the Prevention and Public Health Fund.