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Budget ills spur cuts in health staff

Grants vanish or diminish as infectious diseases soar

The number of infectious disease cases in Allen County has spiked – in some cases dramatically – but the Fort Wayne-Allen County Health Department will be forced to cut workers at the end of the year because of reduced funding.

The board of directors heard Monday that one part-time field investigator and one full-time emergency preparedness and response coordinator will be terminated Dec. 31.

Other staff cuts are possible, depending on whether the department gets a competitive grant it has received in the past, health department administrator Mindy Waldron said.

A grant for sexually transmitted diseases and HIV prevention was significantly reduced for 2013, Waldron said, and the department has no choice but to cut staff.

The grant mandated no part-time employees and a reduction in management, she said.

“Our budget was already hundreds of thousands above last year’s numbers,” Waldron said. “We cut all line items, but some things are out of our control.”

In regard to the lost and reduced grant funding revenue, Waldron said the grants paid for the infectious disease investigative staff.

“Even if all of these grants go away, we are still mandated to investigate these diseases,” she said. “If we have to cut next year, I’m not sure how we will complete all of the duties of the health department.”

The duties of the field investigators, which include more than 1,700 active HIV or STD cases, will be spread out among other employees, Waldron said.

Meanwhile, many communicable diseases are increasing in Allen County, especially hepatitis C, sexually transmitted diseases and tuberculosis, said Dr. Deborah McMahan, Allen County health commissioner.

The department has seen a marked increase in TB in the last few months – both in new cases and in older cases still involved in isolation and treatment, she said.

And Waldron said the cost of treating those patients has also risen dramatically.

There are administrative and legal costs and expensive language interpreter costs because many of the patients do not speak English, she said.

Earlier that day, the department spent $1,000 for a language interpretive service for a person infected with TB who spoke a language that no one recognized, she said.

Many of those same patients are combative and fight being quarantined, requiring extra time and expense, she said. And some have no place to go to recover in isolation. The department must then pay for a hotel, Waldron said.

“All of this is incredibly expensive,” she said.