Low investment, high inequity in local public health - freetxp

Low investment, high inequity in local public health

Lucia Starbuck: What’s your biggest takeaway from the omicron surge and other surges? And how are you using what you’ve learned?

Kevin Dick: The omicron surge really was much different than the other surges that we had seen because we’d never seen anything move so quickly, as far as the explosive growth in cases, and we just couldn’t keep up with it, as far as the demands for testing. Our hospitals were better prepared as far as how they provide treatment.

While we had a huge number of cases, it didn’t end up overwhelming our hospital system. We were also fortunate that we had so much more of our population vaccinated. It also appeared to be less severe. Tragically, though, with that huge number of cases, we still ended up with a large number of deaths, just because there were so many cases.

We’re moving into a new phase. We’ve learned that we need to be more reliant on people getting and administering those at-home test kits themselves, and then if they do test positive, seeking the treatments that are available.

Starbuck: How do you navigate responding to something so unpredictable that can skyrocket like omicron did?

Dick: I think there’s actually there’s no way that you can navigate that. So, we’ve gone through various surges, and we have an increase in demand each time, that we have for testing. We have the increased demand for the disease investigations and contact tracing, our call center. And, so, we’re trying to staff to be able to meet this demand, and then it goes down, and you have people that are standing around. You eventually have to start cutting staffing as that happens, but then once you eliminate those positions, or those volunteers aren’t working with us, to try to ramp up again becomes extremely difficult.

Starbuck: About a year before the pandemic, you spoke to KUNR about your concerns over the lack of public health spending in the state. And you mentioned the low investment in public health can make it challenging to mitigate public health emergencies. Can you talk about this? And are you seeing that play out now?

Dick: We did see the consequences of the low funding that we’ve had for public health in a number of ways. We had been operating in a cost control environment, as many public health departments have done for years, so that we’re trying to maximize what we’re getting out of each person that’s working here. We also had not made investments in data platforms, analytics, those types of things.

The other really important area there was how disproportionately COVID-19 impacted different populations. The lack of public health funding in Nevada has prevented us from addressing and building health equity in our communities. We know that people are having poorer health outcomes because of the zip code that they live in, because of their opportunities for educational attainment, because of the incomes that they have that affect the type of housing that they have, the foods that they eat. One of the important roles of public health is to try to work to bring everybody up.

Starbuck: How has the pandemic changed you as a public health leader and as a person?

Dick: I don’t know if I’ve even had time to think about that too much. I guess I’d like to think I stood up. This is not something I ever expected, and it’s been a heavy weight. When this first started rolling out there was questioning of myself, you know, how did I end up in this situation? And I have all this responsibility for our community. It was scary.

Lucia Starbuck is a corps member for Report for Americaan initiative of the GroundTruth Project.

This story is part of the KUNR series “Changed by the Pandemic.”

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