Georgia budget cuts cause ‘grave concern’ for Macon-Bibb health board

The+Macon-Bibb+County+Board+of+Health+sent+Gov.+Brian+Kemp+a+letter+Tuesday+expressing+concern+over+state-mandated+budget+cuts+as+health+workers+fight+COVID-19.

Liz Fabian

The Macon-Bibb County Board of Health sent Gov. Brian Kemp a letter Tuesday expressing concern over state-mandated budget cuts as health workers fight COVID-19.

With the state of Georgia battling a deadly pandemic, cutting funding for public health is untenable, say members of the Macon-Bibb County Board of Health.

Gov. Brian Kemp calls for a 14 percent reduction in state spending across the board.

Monday, during the health board’s monthly meeting, members present unanimously agreed to draft a stern letter to the governor and health commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey stressing the critical need for budget increases, not cuts.

“Unilateral budget cuts of 14 percent across all departments without regard to collateral damage will cause significant impact on our community, demoralize our public health workforce, and further undermine confidence in public health,” the May 19 letter states. “Such a reduction likewise leaves the state unprepared for a yet unforeseeable health crisis, much in the same way Georgia found itself understaffed and underfunded to fight the novel coronavirus after years of whittling (and sometimes whacking) away at state funding for public health initiatives.”

Board member Chris Tsavatewa said the state’s health system is already underfunded and understaffed after years of cuts.

“All of these have contributed to an unprecedented crisis for public health,” Tsavatewa said. “If Macon-Bibb has to be the one thorn in the side… I’m willing to be that.”

The 14 percent reduction amounts to about $217,000 less for Macon-Bibb County’s health department at a time when revenues from other services routinely provided are down due to the focus on fighting COVID-19.

Board members questioned whether the letter would have any impact. They got no response from their correspondence in late April urging Kemp to allow Macon-Bibb to determine when to reopen non-essential businesses such as nail salons and tattoo parlors.

“As a board, if we don’t advocate for public health, we’re abdicating our responsibilities,” board member Ethel Cullinan said.

“Our delegation needs to be real serious advocates for health,” said Macon-Bibb County Commissioner Elaine Lucas, who serves on the board.

The letter calls for additional state funding for departments “critical to public safety and health.”

“Given the tremendous work associated with testing, contact tracing and education associated with COVID-19 as well as reinstituting all other public health work that has gone unfulfilled as a proven opportunity cost of this virus, we submit, moreover, that an increase in state funding is in order as an investment in a true safety net system and recognition of the significant role our public health workforce plays in our daily quality of life as well as the economic vitality of our communities.”

Board chair Dave Gowan said, “I worry about a second wave with COVID-19.”

If Georgia goes through with the 14 percent reduction, worker furloughs are possible, the health board’s finance director said.

Tsavatewa fears health workers on the front lines of the pandemic will get hit with another wave of the novel coronavirus in November or December and then have to face two-week furloughs.

“Can’t be a safety net on one end and a whipping boy on the other.”

Contact Civic Reporting Senior Fellow Liz Fabian at 478-301-2976 or [email protected]