Flu scare reveals strapped local health agencies

May 26, 2009
Associated Press

The swine flu outbreak fell short of a full-blown international crisis, but revealed the precarious state of local health departments, the community bulwarks against disease and health emergencies in the United States.

A sustained, widespread pandemic would overwhelm many departments that are struggling with cutbacks as well as increased demand from people who have lost jobs and medical insurance.

Public health departments will get some help from this year's stimulus spending of $1 billion for prevention and wellness efforts.

But it will take years to bring local health agencies to the point where they can fight a sustained, widespread pandemic, said Richard Hamburg, a lobbyist at the nonprofit Trust for America's Health, an advocacy group supported by private and government grants.

A report from the group in December found emergency planning gaps in areas such as rapid disease detection, food safety and "surge capacity" to quickly scale up equipment, staff and supplies to meet a major outbreak.

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