Payne, of Calhoun, is executive director of the Georgia Society for Public Health Education, and recently was named to a 31-member advisory board that is guiding a campaign aimed at educating policy makers and the public about the need to reinvest in and rebuild the state’s public health system.
The campaign — “Partner Up! For Public Health” — was initiated and funded by Healthcare Georgia Foundation in reaction to nearly a decade of funding cuts that have decimated the state’s public health system.
“Georgia’s public health system is less than it should be,” Payne said. “Public health budgets have been cut so drastically over the years that our situation has gotten to the point of inefficiency.”
Protecting the public from disease, disasters and injuries are all public health functions, but Payne says Georgia cannot handle those basic functions.
“If we had an epidemic of some exotic flu next year, could our public health system handle it? I don’t think so,” she said.
The organizations and individuals participating on the “Partner Up! For Public Health” advisory board demonstrate endorsement of the effort by many of the state’s best-known community, education and health organizations.
The advisory board members are supporting the campaign by helping plan and implement advocacy efforts and providing feedback.
“We want to increase public awareness about Georgia’s public health system” Payne said. “At one time, you could find the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame on the state’s web site, but not the Division of Public Health.”
Since 2000 Georgia’s population has grown 20 percent but per capita state spending for the public health system has been cut 21 percent. Today, per capita state spending on public health in Georgia is about four cents a day, among the lowest in the nation.
Most recently in the FY 2011 budget the Division of Public Health’s (DPH) general fund budget was cut from $158.6 million to about $148.9 million, a reduction of about $9.75 million.
Lost positions, low pay and high turnover hinder Georgia’s public health system. More than 1,000 of approximately 7,500 public health positions across the state are vacant, according to DPH.
Georgia did poorly in rankings such as The Commonwealth Fund’s “Aiming Higher” (38th in 2009) and “America’s Health Rankings” (43rd in 2009), a joint effort of United Health Foundation, the American Public Health Association and Partnership for Prevention.
Georgia’s most recent bad health grade came this summer in the 2010 “F as in Fat” report: Georgia trailed only Mississippi in the percentage of children between 10 and 17 who are obese. The report is produced by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
“We want lawmakers to take a good look at Georgia’s public health system, listen to everyone and make a decision on where to go,” Payne said. “Our goal is to create awareness about our system and motivate people to call state lawmakers and let them know that we want a better psystem that we have. We need to start putting public health first.”
Partner Up! for Public Health is a statewide advocacy campaign funded by Healthcare Georgia Foundation and designed to advance public health in Georgia.
The campaign was launched in October 2009 as part of a multifaceted effort to rebuild a public health system that has been decimated by budget cuts in recent years.
For more information visit www.togetherwecandobetter.com.