NACCHO’s Big Cities Health Coalition Highlights Emergency Preparedness at Congressional Breakfast Briefing

By Jasmine Tinoco, NACCHO Government Affairs/Media Relations Intern

Patrice Harris, MD, Director of Health Services for Fulton County, Georgia and co-chair of Big Cities Health Coalition (BCHC) addresses Congressional audience. (Also shown (L-R): Julie Morita, MD, Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health; Shelley Hearne, DrPH, Director, BCHC; Wendy Chung, MD, Chief Epidemiologist at Dallas County Department for Health and Human Services)

Patrice Harris, MD, Director of Health Services for Fulton County, Georgia and co-chair of Big Cities Health Coalition (BCHC) addresses Congressional audience. (Also shown (L-R): Julie Morita, MD, Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health; Shelley Hearne, DrPH, Director, BCHC; Wendy Chung, MD, Chief Epidemiologist at Dallas County Department for Health and Human Services)

On April 28, NACCHO’s Big Cities Health Coalition (BCHC) held a Congressional briefing, “Short Term Fixes, Long Term Consequences: How Vaccines, Viruses, and Dollars Impact Emergency Preparedness in America’s Big Cities.” Representatives Tom Price (R-GA) and John Lewis (D-GA) were honorary co-hosts. The panelists at the briefing included Patrice Harris, MD, Director of Health Services for Fulton County, Georgia, and co-chair of BCHC; Julie Morita, MD, Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health; Wendy Chung, MD, Chief Epidemiologist at Dallas County Department for Health and Human Services; and Jeff Gunzenhauser, MD, MPH, Interim Health Officer and Medical Director for Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

Representative Price opened the briefing with comments about the importance of Congress coming together to support emergency preparedness. Shelley Hearne, DrPH, Director of BCHC, stated that “preparedness investments are critical to ensuring training, epidemiologists, and disaster countermeasures are in place.”

Dr. Morita described the dedication of the public health workforce in going “door to door” to provide healthcare providers with the latest information as public anxiety about Ebola rose. Public Health Emergency Preparedness (PHEP) funding facilitated existing relationships that were crucial in preparing for a potential case of Ebola. Dr. Gunzenhauser stated that federal funding provided his local health department with the ability to maintain a sufficient preparedness workforce and allowed the continuous development of relationships and conversations with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in order to be better prepared.

In the United States, big city health departments are often on the front lines when emergencies strike, whether an infectious disease outbreak or a natural disaster. Each panelist shared stories regarding their personal experiences battling infectious disease challenges such as Ebola and measles. They shared the need for ongoing, sustained funding to prepare for emergencies and to maintain high immunization rates. Further, they urged policymakers to fund cities directly in order to get the biggest “bang for the buck.” Currently, only four cities receive direct funding from the PHEP program: Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, and Washington, DC. In the rest of the country, dollars are awarded to state health departments, which have discretion to allocate funding to local jurisdictions. To date, the CDC does not provide a detailing of how much of the federal dollars from PHEP and other programs provided to states reach local health departments that are not directly funded. NACCHO and BCHC have urged lawmakers and the Administration to make this information publicly available in order to have greater transparency about the federal investment.

To support emergency preparedness funding for local health departments, NACCHO has guidance and tools to help members educate policy makers at NACCHO’s Engage website. View a video recording of the briefing at http://www.bigcitieshealth.org/briefing-vaccines-viruses-and-dollars/.

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