The sluggish economy and job loss has brought more uninsured and under-insured clients to the Polk County Health Department in Rockmart and Cedartown.
About 28 percent of Georgians receive health care through government-funded program, such as Medicare, Medicaid and PeachCare. An additional 17 percent are uninsured and receive some care from safety net clinics funded in part by local, state and federal governments.
Unaffordable health insurance and job loss have contributed to the shift from private health insurance coverage to taxpayer-funded programs.
The health department in Polk County serves an average of 1,600 clients per month. Staff cannot provide requested services to about 60 people who call each week.
A total of eight full time positions have been lost due to budget cuts, which started several years ago. When someone vacates a position, the job is not filled and there is also a hiring freeze.
“Additional stress is placed on our over-taxed public health system that continues to meet increased demand with less staff,” said Logan Boss, Public Information Officer for Northwest Georgia Public Health. “This is now coupled with an increase in clients who can’t pay.”
While all clinical programs remain active, the health department can no longer admit new clients in some programs, such as the Stroke and Heart Attack Prevention Program (aka Blood Pressure and Diabetic Clinic). Priority must be given to clients with Communicable Diseases in order to protect the health of everyone in the community by preventing the spread of these illnesses.
“Things were different when I began working with the health department, ” said Debra Helms, clinical coordinator. “Then, a mother could just drop by and get an immunization for her child. This is no longer true and changes have been made so that we can see as many clients as possible.”
The health department provides immunization for adults and children in the county.
WIC is a federally funded supplemental food program for qualified pregnant and breastfeeding women, infants and children under 5 years. These clients are served at the local health department.
Other services include:
Children’s Medical Services, which helps children with special needs get health care and supplies and to locate services.
Women’s Health Medicaid program is for women who have a breast or cervical cancer or pre-cancerous condition.
Pregnancy Medicaid includes women who are pregnant and do not have insurance or are underinsured to cover prenatal services.
Family Planning Services provides comprehensive exams for women and birth control of their choice.
BCCP is a program that services women 40-64 years old who is uninsured. They receive a comprehensive exam and mammogram. There is also additional funding available for follow-up for problems.
Child Health includes comprehensive child health physicals with developmental screenings as well as hearing, vision and dental exams for school registration. There is also a program where high-risk infants are identified and parents are given valuable resources to help with ongoing needs of the family.
Communicable Diseases is a service that protects public health by testing, treating and doing contact investigation on many diseases such as Tuberculosis, Meningitis, Whooping cough, Hepatitis A, Influenza, all sexually transmitted diseases and more.
Universal Newborn Screen-ing is given by trained nurses, who screen infants for hearing loss that fail their newborn hearing screening in the hospital.
In addition, the health department has been tasked to be in charge of planning and preparing in the event of a pandemic flu outbreak.
Public health is responsible for food safety in restaurants, schools, hospitals and health care facilities. The local department is one of the first receiving a call if a food born illness is suspected at a food service establishment.
Staff inspects the tourist court accommodations and swimming pool inspections and is responsible for rabies control.
They will also test local citizens well water for bacteria to make sure their systems is operating correctly. They also inspect homes that care for foster children.