The voices of local health officials pleading with the powers that be in Albany to boost support for county programming are finally being heard.
That’s what Paul Pettit, public health director for Genesee and Orleans counties, communicated to members of the Genesee County Legislature’s Human Services Committee today as he presented his department’s annual report.
“Ever since I’ve been in my position, we’ve been seeking an increase in Article 6 funding,” said Pettit, (pictured at right) speaking about the section of the Public Health Law that authorizes funding for core services delivered by local health departments. “But, if anything, that has deteriorated over the years as they’ve (state lawmakers) have made more things ineligible.”
Things seem to be changing for the better, Pettit said, as a result of his review of Gov. Kathy Hochul’s proposed 2022-23 state budget.
“As this is our main funding stream … we continue to advocate for (increased funding) on an annual basis,” he said. “Now, (for) the first time the (governor) actually proposed increases in Article 6 funding in her executive budget.
“Again, this is fairly unique. It's never been in the executive budget; we've always lobbied the legislative side for when they put their packages together and it never makes it to the end. So, we are very happy to see that it is in on the front end. And it's fairly significant.”
Pettit said that Article 6 funding for full service health departments (such as Genesee-Orleans) is set to increase from $650,000 to $750,000, and money for “fringe reimbursement” also will go up.
“Public health through Article 6 has never received fringe reimbursement on any of our costs,” he advised. “It's all been local or written off on different grants. We’ve always advocated for it, but it's never been realized. So, the biggest thing in here is that it included up to 50 percent fringe reimbursed on any eligible expenses.”
Fifty percent translates to about $230,000 more to the county health department – bringing the total of state funding through Article 6 to around $1.1 million. Pettit said that kind of money will enable his department to implement key programs, such as lead immunization.
While not official yet, Pettit said he has attended advocacy days in Albany and “everyone we've talked to seemed very supportive; there doesn't seem any appetite of reducing it or taking it out.”
In addition, county health is set to receive $22,000 in performance incentive funds this year, which also can be used for any Article 6-eligible reimbursement, Pettit said.
Pettit touched upon several other aspects of the Genesee and Orleans department, which has been a merged agency for nearly 10 years:
-- Lead poisoning intervention: With the Centers for Disease Controls dropping the permitted levels to 3.5 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood (and NYS expected to adopt that measure), more people will be eligible for the county's lead program.
Pettit said the department is receiving three grants for its lead program: $1.3 million from the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development, $250,000 from the CDC and $100,000 annually for five years from the Healthy Neighborhood program that is targeted for the City of Batavia.
“That’s … where you can go in and work with landlords and homeowners ..., making sure their house is safe – smoke detectors, fire extinguishers and those different things,” he said.
-- Cross Jurisdictional Services: The shared services agreement with Orleans County has worked well, both financially and programmatically, Pettit said.
“I think our response to the pandemic and how we've been able to leverage resources and just share our media and our … information that we share with the public -- our public interface with a website -- those have all allowed us to be more efficient and streamlined with our responses,” he said.
Financially, he said the CJS agreement (shared staffing and programming) has saved $275,000 a year over the 9 ½ years – which equals $2.5 million over that time.
Pettit said he hopes that both counties will receive full accreditation from the Public Health Accreditation Board by early next year.
-- Community health assessment: Every four years, local health departments are required to conduct a full community health assessment. In Genesee’s case, it is being done in conjunction with Orleans and Wyoming counties.
“This is a very collaborative process where we work with all the health systems in the counties, and we bring in our different community partners and other departments … to put together our assessment of basically what's going on in our community, as far as access to health care, other types of services that are available,” Pettit said.
A spinoff of that is the Community Health Improvement Plan that utilizes a survey to obtain the public’s views on health care, transportation and other vital health-related subjects.
-- Septic replacement program: More than $110,000 has been given to Genesee County residents in eligible areas in reimbursement costs for upgrading their septic systems, and that program will continue this year.
“These are along definitely some of our higher tributaries and creeks and streams in the county where, again, we don't want to see incidental discharge occurring,” Pettit said.
-- Adult use of cannabis: The state is ramping up its marijuana legalization guidelines, meaning that the health department will be called upon to provide educational information and, possibly, compliance checks along the lines of tobacco enforcement.