Officials: Cuts reduced Alaska health system prior to virus | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Officials: Cuts reduced Alaska health system prior to virus

March 06, 2020 - 7:18 AM

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - A funding injection to prepare for a new virus cannot erase years of budget cuts in Alaska, officials and legislators familiar with the state’s public health system said.

Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy proposed $13 million in new spending this week to monitor and prevent the spread of the virus that causes the disease called COVID-19, The Anchorage Daily News reported Thursday.

No virus cases have been found in Alaska, but Dunleavy asked the Alaska Legislature for the expenditure that includes $4 million in state funding and permission to accept $9 million in federal money.

State health spending reached its modern peak in 2014 when Alaska was spending $28 million per year on public health nursing and $7.6 million on epidemiology.

Six years later, those figures have dropped to $22 million and $2 million, respectively.

The 2014 budget called for 110 public health nurses statewide, plus aides and support staff. The current budget calls for 90 nurses, although the state has been unable to fill all those positions.

Due to budget cuts, the state’s pay and benefits for public health nurses lags behind similar positions in other states. The state’s personnel directory lists 70 public health nurses.

Dunleavy's request would pay for 10 temporary workers including five public health nurses, three nurse epidemiologists, one microbiologist, and one emergency manager.

The cuts have left Alaska vulnerable to a threat like the one posed by the global spread of the COVID-19 virus, officials said.

“Definitely we’re in a worse spot right now. The cuts that have gone on have been detrimental to the retention of those people who are so needed at this point,” said Democratic state Sen. Donny Olson, a doctor who serves on the Senate Finance Committee.

“If we do have a coronavirus emergency, we’re ill-prepared for it,” Olson said.

COVID-19 is caused by a member of the coronavirus family that is a close cousin to the SARS and MERS viruses that have caused outbreaks in the past.

The virus has infected 98,000 people and killed more than 3,300 globally, including 12 deaths in the United States.

Virus symptoms can include fever, runny nose, coughing, and breathing trouble. Most people develop only mild cases. Some people, usually those with other medical complications, develop more severe symptoms including pneumonia, which can be fatal.

News from © The Associated Press, 2020
The Associated Press

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