Public Health Directors: New York's public health system needs to be reformed

Posted at 11:00 AM, Apr 14, 2021

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Five public health directors overseeing six counties say this is the time for the state to examine the way the public health system is funded and reform it.

"If there's ever going to be a time where we can show why public health and the local health departments are more important than ever before, this is it," Dan Stapleton, Niagara County's Public Health Director, said.

"This is the opportune time for New York state to truly analyze the way the public health system is funded in the state and reform it," Christine Schuyler, Chautauqua County's Public Health Director, said.

The public health directors agreed: New York State's public health system is at a pivotal point and changes need to happen.

"Public health is generally funded through a series of grants that are very program specific. They are just an administrative nightmare and burden. It would be nice if public health were funded more like other areas of the government are where we have a larger block grant that we can use how we need to use it in our community," Schuyler said.

They say funds from county governments are unlikely to increase.

"We're all maxed out with tax gaps and everything else. There's just no ability to add in additional local dollars," Paul Pettit, the public health director for Orleans and Genesee Counties said.

"I don't know that the local appropriations are going to increase for us in public health, but we can definitely work on state and federal," Dr. Kevin Watkins, the public health director for Cattaraugus County said.

But they said there are currently issues when it comes to how state and federal dollars are distributed.

"In Erie County we were very fortunate in our 2020 budget to take advantage of the U.S. CARES Act to fund much of our public health preparedness work to respond to this pandemic. In 2021, the American Rescue Plan Act is also going to help our budget for this year and the coming years," Dr. Gale Burstein, Erie County's Health Commissioner, said.

"The distribution by the feds and the state has not been based on population. Erie County has gotten a lot of money from it and we didn't," Stapleton said, "I think that's a real problem because it leaves out the smaller counties a lot."