The president of Mississippi’s medical association is speaking out against budget cuts at the state health department. MPB’s Evelina Burnett reports.
The health department, like most other state agencies, has already faced several rounds of cuts and its budget is likely to shrink next year too as the state faces another year with revenue below expectations.
Dr. Lee Voulters is president of the Mississippi State Medical Association. He says he understands there are budget cuts everywhere, "but what is more important than the health of our community? We must protect our drinking water. We must protect restaurants. We must protect our citizens against Zika virus, against tuberculosis, and all these communicable diseases, and we cannot do that without a viable and functioning department of health.”
A recent article in the Clarion Ledger quoted Senate President Pro tem Terry Burton as saying that the legislature would be trying to get the health department more money, but that the department is also going to go back to "what they used to do" - specifically, more education and less work in clinics.
Dr. Voulters says he thinks that’s a mistake.
"It would be absolutely disastrous if we lost any more functioning of the Department of Health," he says. "It's a critical part of protecting the health of our citizens in Mississippi, and we cannot do without it."
A neurologist in Gulfport, Voulters says the department is especially critical after natural disasters. He recalls the important role it played after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“We are one disaster away from a disaster," Voulters says. "If we have another disaster like Katrina, and we do not have a viable department of health that can react to that disaster - whether it be a Katrina or an outbreak of whatever, whatever disease - the results could be absolutely catastrophic.”
This Saturday, March 25, is the deadline for budget negotiations between the House and Senate conference committees.