By Laurence Polsky, MD, MPH, FACOG, Health Officer, Calvert County (MD) Health Department
On Aug. 25, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and several of his staff joined health officers Meena Brewster (St. Mary’s County, MD), Dianna Abney (Charles County, MD), and me at the Calvert County Health Department. For an hour and a half, we discussed issues affecting public health in our southern Maryland communities. Congressman Hoyer is second in the Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives, behind House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
We talked to Congressman Hoyer about the challenges local health departments face in light of post-recession and sequester budget cuts, how local health departments are adjusting to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and actions we have taken to help stem opiate addiction in his district.
Dr. Abney spoke about difficulties providing accessible healthcare to underserved areas of Charles County and the work her department is doing to help these residents. Dr. Brewster spoke about the 10 essential services of public health and how budget issues and the loss of the Community Transformation Grant have impacted her health department. All three of us also discussed our concern that budget cuts have diminished our disaster response capabilities.
Calvert County has struggled with a 50% increase in transportation costs for Medicaid enrollees since the launch of the ACA. This served as an entry point to talk about the unforeseen sequelae of the new healthcare law and the strain it puts on safety net providers.
We ended on a bright note, underscoring the unique position that local health departments play in community health. In response to the impact that substance abuse has had on our region and the resource limitations we have in our rural jurisdiction, Calvert County Health Department has launched a program aimed at pregnant woman struggling with addiction. Our Healthy Beginnings program illustrates the potential for a local health department to bring together traditionally isolated private and public resources. In coordination with local obstetricians, the program brings together substance abuse and mental health counseling; social services; the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children program; smoking cessation classes; expanded transportation help; coordination with prenatal care; enrollment in ACA plans; and case management all under one roof.
We are indebted to NACCHO’s Government Affairs staff for helping to arrange the visit by Congressman Hoyer as part of an effort to educate Members of Congress about the health challenges faced by local health departments as we try to improve the health and safety of our residents.
I encourage all my colleagues at local health departments to pursue opportunities to invite Members of Congress and their staff to visit you and learn about what you do. This was an invaluable opportunity to raise our visibility and make sure that when decisions are made in Washington, our elected representative has a picture of how those decisions will affect our community.