GOP legislative leaders when setting budgets earlier this year said the Health Department will have to “re-brand” itself and operate more like it did in the 1900s than in the 21st century, focusing on education and prevention, monitoring disease rates and regulation rather than providing direct health care services.
Legislative leaders said they have confidence that Currier can revamp and cut the department without endangering public health.
“I have a lot of confidence in Dr. Currier,” said Senate Public Health Chairman Dean Kirby, R-Pearl. “… She’ll do the best she can do with what she has to work with.”
House Public Health Chairman Sam Mims, R-McComb, said he’s been in contact with Health Department leaders as they plan the overhaul.
“They understand the budget, and I think they are going to focus on their changing role,” Mims said. “I think everybody realizes the amount of people going to health clinics for day-to-day primary care is down — with those individuals going to private practices — so the Department of Health has to change and adapt to that and evolve.”
State cuts to health and mental health services have also become a major source of political and partisan debate in Mississippi.
Republican leaders, holding the majority, say they are doing the will of the electorate, cutting taxes and state spending. Democratic leaders accuse the GOP majority of giving away the farm in hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks and incentives to corporations while cutting public health care services in the poorest state in the country. As the Health Department ponders further cuts, the Department of Mental Health recently announced it is eliminating 650 positions and reducing services because of state budget cuts.
Former longtime House Public Health Chairman Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, said the loss of public health services will be particularly tough for rural areas that lack other providers.
“Everything you cut in government has the most profound impact in rural areas,” Holland said. “Rural Mississippi is bleeding … I’m beginning to hear from folks on everything from, ‘I can’t get anybody to answer the phone when I call,’ to with restaurant and sewer environmental inspections, ‘I was promised that inspection would be the next week and now it’s been three weeks.’ I was trying to help a family today that’s dealing with Mental Health with a little boy kicked in the head by a horse who needs help. He’s been put on a waiting list.
“… These agencies had to endure all these cuts that are now getting down into the marrow,” Holland said. “These far-right knuckleheads have taken a meat ax to everything, and it’s hurting the least, last and most vulnerable among us.”