Opinion | If you’re worried about local health policies, run for office
Many people don’t realize all the benefits we enjoy due to the work of public health – work which has often been done quietly in the background. As a local health officer serving 6 counties in northern Michigan, I see the profound impact of prevention and direct services delivered through public health professionals and innovative community partnerships on the health of people and environments.
However, I write this out of concern as a citizen for the future of our health and well-being.
Successes of public health have contributed in a vital way to a 30-year increase in life expectancy since 1900 in the United States. Thanks to vaccinations for children and adults, there is decreased illness and mortality. The use of helmets, seatbelts and workplace safety measures have led to thousands and thousands of fewer accidental deaths. Fewer people experience dangerous water and food-borne diseases due to clean water, sanitary codes, and restaurant policies, education, and inspections. And, due to improved screening and tobacco control, we have experienced a decrease in illnesses and deaths related to chronic disease.
Not only are these important services saving lives, but they are also saving money. For example, according to a return-on-investment analysis by the Michigan Association for Local Public Health, each dollar invested in childhood immunization results in a savings of $22, and for every $1 invested in vision screening, $162 is saved!
Unfortunately, these critical health benefits enjoyed by the citizens of the United States, northern Michigan and our local counties are at risk of falling victim to political agendas at all levels of government that don’t prioritize public health. The public should be deeply concerned about the impact of political manipulation aimed at limiting these functions.
Many citizens don’t realize the importance of the role of local government in assuring public health services are available and functioning. Every county in Michigan is required to have a health department and these counties are also required to contribute to funding public health services. In rural areas, it is common to form a partnership between counties to assure economic efficiencies and equity in the quality of services through a district health department like many of our health departments in northern Michigan.
Local health departments are governed by county commissioners who have an important responsibility in ensuring the health of their community. Our local county commissioners are obligated – by law and by oath – to assure the public’s health is protected.
We must pay attention to all levels of government and the impact our elected officials have over our health, safety and welfare. We each have the power to ensure our freedom: at the polls when we elect those who represent us and listen to our needs or by stepping into the arena ourselves.
Have you considered running for county commissioner? Do you realize how many candidates run unopposed each election? Good people of character and integrity can make all the difference. Check with your county clerk about the spring deadline – I’m sure they would be happy to assist potential candidates. The Michigan Secretary of State also has information on deadlines to file as a candidate as well as the timeline to register to vote.
There should be healthy competition for these county commissioner seats and those who are elected should represent all the voices of their constituents, not just those who agree with them. If we are unhappy with the decisions of our elected officials, we have the power to change that. This is what our great country is built on; if we want change, each of us has the ability and obligation to bring it about. Maintaining critical public health services that citizens rely on depends on the support of elected officials. I urge you to do your research, understand their priorities and beliefs, consider running for elected office, and vote!
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