Editorials

Health Department has right leader for tough times

Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Mary Currier answers questions from state legislators about the Department of Health in 2016 at the Capitol in Jackson.
Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Mary Currier answers questions from state legislators about the Department of Health in 2016 at the Capitol in Jackson. AP File

We like state Health Officer Dr. Mary Currier’s approach.

She could have announced, “The sky is falling,” after her department’s budget was cut to $24.6 million for the fiscal year that begins July 1. That is a cut from the $36 million budgeted for the current year, which subsequently was cut to $31 million by Gov. Phil Bryant after the state’s revenue fell below expectations.

Instead, Currier, who has been with the department since 1993, has chosen to reinvent the department, with a goal of carrying out core Health Department functions with a leaner staff.

“We have to change our structure to continue to be able to efficiently do our core public health services,” she said in a video message to employees that was obtained by the Clarion-Ledger. “The entire agency will be impacted in one way or the other.”

What is now nine public health districts will be consolidated into three regions. There also will be layoffs. Those changes require the approval of the state Personnel Board, which could consider them next month.

We have to change our structure to continue to be able to efficiently do our core public health services.

State Health Officer Mary Currier

“This won’t be an overnight process,” she said. “We believe most of the changes will be made by June 30.”

There is much we don’t know about how the reinvented Health Department will look or exactly what services it will offer. But we appreciate Currier’s measured approach, her insistence on studied measures rather than knee-jerk reactions to cuts the Health Department has known were coming for some time.

Of course, we are concerned the state has reduced the budget that pays for restaurant inspections and wastewater inspections and for the prevention and treatment of tuberculosis and sexually transmitted diseases. The state’s treasury also provides matching funds that bring in millions of federal dollars and pays the salaries of district and county personnel. And we’re aware the President Donald Trump’s administration wants deep cuts in health spending, which make up 90 percent of the Health Department budget.

These are daunting challenges and the state is lucky to have a person of vision leading the department through these tough times.

We hope Currier and her staff can find ways to reduce spending that won’t endanger the health of Mississippians.

The editorial represents the views of the Sun Herald editorial board. Opinions of columnists and cartoonists are their own.

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