By Abbi Overfelt firstname.lastname@example.org
March 18, 2014
LAURINBURG — As director of the county’s health department, David Jenkins is not used to having money thrown into his lap — but in April, he and his staff will present to the board a budget that is mandated by a state law to include nearly $1 million of additional county funding.
House Bill 438, Jenkins told the board at Tuesday’s monthly meeting, requires that the county return the department’s funding to the level it was at in the 2010-2011 fiscal year — a difference of $950,765. The bill was ratified in 2012, but the deadline to meet its budget requirements is July 2014, the start of the new fiscal year.
Though Jenkins is happy to have more money to provide for the public’s health, he is concerned that the amount of time in which he and his staff have to prepare a new budget — about a month — could compromise his efforts to increase efficiency and trim excess.
“I just got the information this morning,” he said after the meeting. “… Our goal is to more or less look out for the public’s health and we want to make sure we’re providing a useful service. One of my agendas was trying to be more efficient and cut costs and we’re going to try to do that, and if this helps us somehow to provide better health outcomes for the community then I’m happy.”
In 2010-2011, the department had nearly twice the amount of employees and twice the amount for primary care. Many programs running during that year, including Child Health, Healthy Carolinas, Maternal Health and Pregnancy Care Management have since been eliminated.
Department staff on Tuesday briefly spoke of reviving some of those programs.
“We’re going to have to do things in phases, try to complement services we have without hiring more people,” Jenkins said.
If the money is not appropriated, the department could lose some state and federal funding.
“It wasn’t a surprise, we’ve known about it for some time,” said Bob Davis, the board’s commissioner member. Though it is now law, Davis said commissioners were hoping the state would reconsider.
House Bill 438 also provides guidelines for county health boards, staff and programs. To view the bill, visit ncleg.net and type the bill’s number into the search box.
The board on Tuesday approved the renewal of the “Child Nurse Health Program,” billed by Tina Clark, director of Nursing, as a “safety net” for uninsured and under-insured children. The program would provide well child checkups from birth to age 21, referring all children with an illness to a pediatrician. Two nurses already on staff would provide the services after attending a course in Chapel Hill at the cost of $1,500 each.
The program dissolved in the early 2000s because pediatricians saw the program as competition and the partnership between the program’s staff and pediatrician’s offices was strained, according to board member Cordella Walker.
Also on Tuesday, the board heard from director of the county Humane Society Melinda McMillan, who said the society’s adoption rate has much improved since it began using the Internet as a networking tool in 2009. While costs per animal housed at the society have risen from $97 in 2008 to $198 in 2013, euthanizations have dropped from 1, 260 animals to 777, and adoptions or rescues have soared from 369 to 1,205.
McMillan said the society’s results were directly due to the increase in spending, which reflects the cost of veterinary services for every animal that is housed. She said the shelter’s reputation allows it to work with several rescue groups from as far away as New York and New Jersey, where there is a shortage of adoptable animals because of strict spay and neuter laws.
McMillan also updated the board on the society’s Pet Responsibility Education Program, which is conducted in fifth-grade classrooms and has an emphasis on spaying and neutering and preventing heartworms. Many students, she said, have not heard of either.
“We’ve got to start with the younger generation to change the mindset in our community of how pets should be treated,” she said.
In other business, the board heard from Tim Martin, fiscal management coordinator, who said most of the department’s expenditures are on track to come in at $100,000 under budget. The administration line item is currently over budget at 70 percent, but Martin said that number reflected the county’s seizure of lapsed salaries.
In fees received for services and funding from the state and federal level, Martin reported that Medicaid reimbursement continues to lag, with some $24,000 not collected. He said cuts to budgeted Community Development Block Grants amounted to $17,000 for the Woman, Infants and Children (WIC) program.
“We’re at the mercy of the state when it comes to block grants,” he said.
The board also on Tuesday also heard from Kathie Cox, public health educator, who outlined plans for the observance of the American Public Health Association’s National Public Health Week, and updated the board about a recent partnership with the county Parks and Recreation Department to apply for funding through the Community Transformation Planning Grant Project.
The money would be used to update the department’s 2008 master plan with an emphasis on lowering the county’s obesity rate and creating smoking cessation programs.
Abbi Overfelt can be reached at 910-276-2311, ext. 12. Follow her on Twitter @aoinscotco.