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Opinion | Michigan public health gets needed funding. Now comes hard part

Author Frank Sonnenberg said, “money can buy things, but it can’t buy everything.” Michigan’s budget for fiscal year 2023-24 fully funds the state’s obligation to essential local public health programs around the state for the first time in decades. This is great news. With an additional $25 million in state funds committed to their work, local public health officers around the state will breathe a little easier knowing they won’t scramble to stitch together basic program funding for the coming year.

Norm Hess
Norm Hess is executive director of the Michigan Association for Local Public Health, which supports Michigan’s 45 local health departments.

Now the work begins for most local public health departments on a different kind of challenge. Decades of underfunding local public health have created structural deficiencies in our state’s local public health system – staffing shortages, material shortages, programs straining to meet local needs in some cases, and more. The Covid-19 pandemic in many ways laid bare the price of this chronic underfunding, in Michigan and beyond.

The local public health department’s mission is healthy communities. Their work is comprehensive, spanning most facets of everyday life and actively controlling disease outbreaks. From the food we eat to the water we drink, from the environment we live in, to the homes we reside in. Programs aimed at preventing childhood injuries, detecting cancers in their earliest stages, and avoiding heart attacks and strokes. From prenatal services to helping our elders live longer and healthier into their later years, local public health departments support residents throughout their lifespan.

They say money can’t buy happiness. It cannot, by itself, buy healthiness, either. Our challenges in attracting new talent to local public health departments and retaining those people to become tomorrow’s leaders will take time and focused effort by all of today’s professionals. Similarly, our challenge to restore and build community trust and personal connections after the highly politicized pandemic will take time and work.

But right now, in this moment, we are pleased to say the governor and our legislative leaders have stepped-up to make a critical investment in every Michigan community. They have taken away a long-standing obstacle, and we thank them for that leadership. It is a first step on a long road, and local public health leaders are ready to make the journey.

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