Spencer Develops Plan for Protecting Public Health
Suffolk County residents can breathe a sigh of relief today! After weeks of negotiation, the Suffolk County Department of Health will undergo a comprehensive review of the programs and services it provides before devastating cuts to personnel will take place. Working with County Executive Steve Bellone and Department of Health Commissioner James L. Tomarken, Legislator William Spencer was able to fashion a compromise which would allow the Department to continue to provide critical services while it is transformed into a more efficient and effective model.
The Suffolk County Department of Health was slated to suffer massive losses in personnel as of July 1st. These layoffs were in addition to the recent retirement of about 100 highly-experienced, long time Health Department staff. Combined, these two reductions in personnel would result in a County Health department that is 20% smaller than 2 years ago. This would have made it nearly impossible for the Department to meet all of its mandated obligations.
“My concern is that we have a legal and ethical duty to protect the citizens of Suffolk County by enforcing the Public Health Law. Failure to conduct services as required by law may compromise the health of our residents,” stated Legislator William Spencer. “We have been fully engaged with Dr. Tomarken in a comprehensive review of the Health Department. The extent of the lay-offs in the Department of Health reinforced my resolve as the Chairman of the Legislature’s Health Committee to work with my colleagues and the County Executive’s staff on a comprehensive plan to save jobs, money and increase revenue. This analysis included prioritizing programs, staffing and budget impacts and weighing those priorities against the certain risks to public health.”
Ongoing meetings with the Commissioner and representatives from the County Executive’s office and Performance Management Team have been both productive and encouraging. We have spent a great deal of time addressing the concerns expressed by Suffolk residents. Outlined is Legislator Spencer’s proposed plan:
- Fully-funded positions have been identified and will be restored as appropriate.
- “Vital” positions identified on the approved lay-off list should be restored in an interim fashion to allow the Performance Management Team time to analyze the Department and continue to meet our mandates. These interim positions will be revisited upon completion of the PMT analysis.
- A formal request will be made for an audit to be conducted by the Suffolk County Comptroller of the revenue producing divisions in the Department of Health to improve efficiencies and maximize revenue.
- A task force will be convened to evaluate the Division of Children with Special Needs to ensure that the children of Suffolk County continue to receive the services they require in an expedient and effective manner and that the funding the County receives from NYS is maximized.
The beauty of this plan is that the Department of Health has already identified several realistic, tangible off-sets within their budget to pay for it. With the realization of the untapped revenue, this plan will be revenue neutral, if not revenue positive!
Also negotiated was the restoration of some positions in the WIC program, public health sanitarians, water quality and environmental review and communicable disease division staff. Public Health Nursing and Early Childhood Intervention will continue to be discussed.
“I commend County Executive Bellone and Commissioner Tomarken for all their hard work,” Legislator Spencer said. “I realize times are tough, the economy is sluggish and Suffolk County is experiencing unprecedented budget problems. But I believe we can be fiscally responsible while providing public health services in an efficient manner. We have formulated a plan that balances both needs while minimizing the risk to public health. “