The Columbia County Health Department is looking to the community for donations to help make up for state budget cuts.
"The demands are going up at the (health department), and the money is shrinking," said Tommy Mercer, the chairman of the health department board and a former Columbia County commissioner. "That's our dilemma."
A state agency, the health department is only partially funded by the state, which has trimmed its funding in recent years. The cutbacks might force health officials to eliminate services or programs.
"There's no fat in that budget at the Board of Health, I can promise you that," Mercer said. "It is pretty bad. The state has cut us ($139,151) in the last two years."
After the latest reduction, the department's operating budget is about $831,000, with less than half coming from the state. The county provides a subsidy of almost $435,000, 52 percent of the health department's operating capital, said county Financial Services Director Leanne Reece.
To increase funding, Mercer recently sent out letters to area businesses asking for donations.
The health department operates three clinics, which will be consolidated into one location when construction on the William Few Parkway facility is complete next year. Mercer said that move will save on operating costs.
Health department services include medical and dental screenings, a nutrition program, HIV and AIDS testing and education, stroke and heart attack education and prevention, emergency and disaster preparedness, disease monitoring and immunizations.
All services are offered free or at low cost.
Health department staff also inspect restaurants, hotels, public swimming pools and other businesses for compliance with health and safety regulations.
The department staff immunized almost 11,000 children and adults in 2009, leading the East Central Health District in H1N1 virus immunizations. It inspected 764 restaurants and investigated 25 animal bites.
Mercer said he's not concerned about the department inspecting businesses from which he solicited donations.
"None of them that inspects anything in this county would ever, ever walk in a place and ask if they gave money and if they didn't (then) give them a bad report," Mercer said. "That would never come into play."
Mercer said the Board of Health has already pursued several options to ease the budget situation, including pleading with state lawmakers and approaching University Hospital about developing a clinic.
The health department already is operating two nurses short, Mercer said. And he doesn't want the staff to feel so rushed to see patients that they can't give each the required time and attention.
"I don't want them to miss anything," Mercer said. "We don't need that situation."
Even with rising unemployment increasing demand at the health department, Mercer said, the number of indigent people in need of services in Columbia Count is lower than that in most Georgia counties.
"But we still need to take care of the people that need the help," he said.
Any individual or business wishing to help can send donations to: Columbia County Health Department, P.O. Box 99, Appling GA 30803.
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