First-Tier City Doesn't Cut Health

Article excerpt

Byline: Tonyaa Weathersbee

It's a tough choice -- whether to keep people well or to keep people safe. It's also tough to do one and not the other.

But for some reason, it seems that Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton isn't making that connection. Recently, his staff told the Duval County health department that it could expect to lose $1 million from the city this year. That's on top of the $400,000 it lost last year.

The health department, which is largely funded by the state and federal government, receives about 6 percent of its budget from the city. But since he was elected in 2003, with a healthy dose of support from the city's firefighter and police unions, Peyton has put more money into those public safety departments and not health, which is primarily funded by the state.

But the level of funding that the health department has received from the state hasn't increased over the years, and much of its federal money has dried up, said health department spokesman Charles Griggs.

So the department has increasingly relied on the city to help fill in the gaps -- especially when it comes to prevention and outreach services. Such services include sexually transmitted disease prevention, AIDS and HIV testing, obesity prevention and environmental testing that keeps people out of bacteria-infested waters.

"All those things are potentially affected," said Griggs, who also told me that the department was trying to work with Peyton to get the funding restored. "People don't understand that health is a major part of that public safety triangle ... it also is the part that people take for granted."

In Jacksonville -- especially at this time -- public health ought to be the last thing that anyone ought to take for granted. Because just as this city leads the state when it comes to the per capita murder rate, it also leads the state when it comes to certain health problems -- problems that are intertwined with the same esteem issues that have people placing less of a value on their own lives, much less anyone else's.

First, there's the issue of sexually transmitted diseases. A recent report by the Jacksonville Children's Commission that was cited in the Times-Union found that the rate of STDs among youths here is higher than the state average, and that STD infections in the city's old core areas were five times higher than the state average. …