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'4-alarm blaze': New York's public health crises converge - POLITICO

'4-alarm blaze': New York's public health crises converge - POLITICO

'4-alarm blaze': New York's public health crises converge - POLITICO
Oct 02, 2022 3 mins, 55 secs

A look inside the state health department’s battle against three simultaneous disease outbreaks.

This past winter, as Covid cases were beginning to decline, state health officials in New York were expecting a respite after two exhausting years and a chance to refocus on run-of-the-mill public health duties.

“We’re now in a four-alarm blaze again,” Loretta Santilli, the department’s director of the Office of Public Health Practice, said in an August interview.

Despite being bolstered by more public health funding per capita than most states, New York public health officials are trying to cope with the threat of three simultaneous disease outbreaks, according to interviews conducted over the last two months with more than six New York state health officials and public health experts|

“By having a perfect storm of all three diseases circulating at the same time, it is a crushing blow to health departments,” said Lawrence Gostin, a professor of public health law at Georgetown University, referring to New York.

Mary Bassett (left) and Governor Kathy Hochul participate in a health department press briefing in Midtown Manhattan on August 22, 2022.

But overall, spending since 2010 for state public health has plummeted by 16 percent per capita, according to an analysis by Kaiser Health News and The Associated Press.

“I have a lot of confidence actually in our ability to respond to all of these threats,” said Mary Bassett, New York’s health commissioner in an interview in September.

Officials said they worry about what the state and the country could see if people who are unvaccinated do not sign up for the polio shot and if Covid cases spike alongside the yearly rise in influenza cases.

The New York state budget sets aside $349 million for public health, which includes funding for 212 full-time employees at the state department of health, and $25.7 million in 2023 and $51.5 million in 2024 to help finance local district public health offices|

Asked whether her office has enough support and resources to tackle the myriad of health issues the department is tasked with handling, Bassett said: “The answer to that is no.”.

“I’m not just talking about New York State — I’m talking about the investment in public health nationally.

The converging health emergencies in New York come amid a broader leadership shakeup over the last year that includes a new commissioner, several new agency heads and a department reorganization following its handling of Covid-19 under former Gov.

And many people here in New York and across the country have left public health,” said Ursula Bauer, the deputy commissioner for public health, in an August interview.

A research assistant prepares a PCR reaction for polio at a lab at Queens College on August 25, 2022 in New York City.

Early this spring, New York state health officials said they were feeling like their work had finally begun to return to a normal pace.

Officials realized they were dealing with yet another rare infectious disease outbreak — one that would require the overworked and exhausted public health department to work even harder.

Still, health officials across the country, including in New York, were caught off guard.

“The demand for vaccine has really outstripped the supply of the vaccine,” Travis O’Donnell, associate director of the health department’s AIDS Institute who helped work on the monkeypox response, said in an August interview.

The lack of consistent and early vaccine supply spurred complaints among those who had contracted monkeypox in New York City.

The limitations … have a domino effect on how we are able to supply each of the regions,” said Johanne Morne, the department’s deputy commissioner of health equity and human rights, in an August interview.

People protest during a rally calling for more government action to combat the spread of monkeypox at Foley Square on July 21, 2022 in New York City.

The CDC, members of the Wadsworth Center and officials from the health department convened via phone to develop a plan to determine how the individual contracted the virus and the exact degree to which it was spreading.

“We don’t really know where the transmission occurred,” said Emily Lutterloh, director of the division of epidemiology at the health department, in an August interview

Healthcare workers with New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene help people register for the monkeypox vaccine at one of the City's vaccination sites on July 26, 2022

By August, New York City reported almost 2,700 cases

Since then, monkeypox cases in New York have leveled off, bringing much-needed relief to the health department

Over the past several weeks, health department officials and top Biden health and White House officials have debated ways to ramp up vaccinations in communities that traditionally resist shots

“Human resources are the crux of public health infrastructure,” Santilli said


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