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Health dept. cuts will lead to unhealthy state

With further budget cuts looming, some lawmakers say the state Department of Health will have to “re-brand” itself and operate more like it did in the 1900s.

That’s according to media reports out of Jackson. The department is potentially facing significant cuts in the upcoming budget year.  According to the Clarion-Ledger, those cuts could be as high as 47 percent.

“Our local Health Departments back home are hurting. They’re having to shut things down. That’s what we’re hearing, that this is amounting to a nearly 50-percent cut. Is that the case?” Sen. Bob Dearing, D-Natchez asked.

“No, that’s not true,” Senate President Pro tem Terry Burton said. “They did take a massive cut compared to some other agencies. But they are re-branding, going back to doing what they used to do, more education … not necessarily treating people in clinics.”

Burton said the agency is likely going back to the public health model of the 1900s, when it was more known for providing information and education rather than direct health services, the newspaper reported.

Think about that statement for a moment. Some lawmakers are suggesting that the Health Department go back to the way it operated in the 1900s, when flu pandemics killed millions, or when tuberculosis was the second-leading cause of death, or when the infant mortality rate was as high as 30 percent in some U.S. cities. We’re hoping Burton misspoke and meant something different than what his words suggest.

Government shouldn’t have a role in every part of our lives, but healthcare is one place where government can do much good.

County health clinics are an important resource in most communities. They offer newborn screenings, offer health services for children with chronic conditions, provide immunizations and implement the WIC nutrition program, among dozens of other things. They are an important part of the state’s healthcare community.

The Department of Health provides a litany of important services, from lead poisoning screenings to STD testing to boil-water notices to ensuring restaurants are clean.

Cutting the Health Department’s budget and suggesting it shift its focus to education instead of providing services is unwise and will lead to a less healthy Mississippi.

Mississippi deserves better than this. Hopefully, lawmakers will come to understand that before a final budget is passed.