NACCHO Executive Director Robert M. Pestronk said the job losses at local health epartments "make life riskier."

Public Health Spotlight: Job Losses, New Accreditation

The National Association of County & City Health Officials holds its annual meeting next week in Memphis with officials worried about 23,000 jobs lost thus far at local health departments nationwide.

The School of Public Health at the University of Maryland, College Park received accreditation last month for a five-year term from the Board of Councilors of the Council on Education for Public Health, making it the 44th school of public health to be fully CEPH-accredited. And schools of public health continue to do important work: The Mel and Enid College of Public Health at the University of Arizona conducted a study that brought about an online training program helping EMS workers and firefighters nationwide prevent Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections.

Yet America's public health network is reeling, even as the National Association of County & City Health Officials (NACCHO) prepares for its 2010 annual meeting, which will take place July 14-16 at the Memphis Cook Convention Center in Memphis, Tenn. The concern now is 23,000 jobs lost from local health departments, some of which have weathered three rounds of budget cuts and expect more of them to come.

The study done by Kelly Reynolds and fellow researchers from the University of Arizona (UA) school found high levels of MRSA bacteria on couches, class desks, and other surfaces from 500 samples taken at nine Tucson Fire Department offices, reported Rebecca Ruiz-McGill of UA Communications.

"The findings let us know that the initial cases of MRSA were not isolated -– the potential for contamination was evident. Once we certified the presence of MRSA contamination, we knew there was a need to help prevent its spread within this vulnerable community," Reynolds said in Ruiz-McGill's article. The study's results were published in the June issue of the American Journal of Infection Control and are the only published study to date in the scientific literature of MRSA contamination at fire stations, she wrote.

The firefighter training is available from UA's Global Health Institute, which is part of the school.

Schools of public health do the vital work of training new public health professionals. NACCHO Executive Director Robert M. Pestronk said the job losses the local departments have endured "make life riskier. Continued cuts to local health department budgets threaten Americans' safety and health, he added. "For example, fewer staff to conduct inspections of water well drilling sites, sewage treatment facilities, and food service facilities like restaurants will make drinking water and food increasingly dangerous to consume. The ability to recognize and stop in a timely manner outbreaks of infectious diseases like influenza or tuberculosis is disappearing before our eyes."

"The mounting cuts to local public health departments are the beginnings of a national tragedy," said Dr. Georges Benjamin, M.D., executive director of the American Public Health Association. "Without robust, sustained investment in our public health infrastructure, the capacity and ability of this country to protect the public and prevent diseases is being severely eroded."

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