An exterior shot of the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness on East Gray Street. | Photo by Darla Carter

Despite an ominous-sounding passage in a spreadsheet released recently to explain Mayor Greg Fischer’s proposed budget cuts, the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness doesn’t think it will lose its accreditation.

But the budget crisis will have some practical impacts like wider gaps between restaurant inspections — the result of losing a health inspector position, said Dave Langdon, a spokesman for the department.

Fischer’s efforts to cover a roughly $35 million budget shortfall, partly fueled by increased pension costs, means Public Health and Wellness is slated to receive $700,000 in cuts from staff reductions and the loss of an employee well-being program (another $1 million would come from the elimination of general fund support for The Living Room Project run by Centerstone).

Things could have been much worse, however, as some cuts proposed earlier in the year like eliminating the immunization program, closing the Specialty Clinic and reducing syringe exchange hours were not part of the mayor’s latest proposed cuts.

Fischer unveiled his budget proposal April 25, with “painful cuts to all agencies in all parts of the city,” citing the pension obligation and the Metro Council’s rejection of a proposed insurance tax hike as reasons.

A city spreadsheet explaining what the impact of $647,000 in personnel reductions in various health programs at Public Health and Wellness would be says the “reduction will alter the city’s vision to improve the community’s health outcomes around three major focus areas: access to healthcare, socioeconomic progress, and environmental equity. Could result in a loss of accreditation, inability to meet state mandates and therefore potential turnover of public health services to the state.”

However, when asked about the passage this week, the health department offered a more optimistic take on the situation.

“Although the reduced staffing will make it more difficult, we should be able to continue to meet state mandates and accreditation in terms of population health, doing quality improvement, doing health impact assessments, working with partners and stakeholders on community health improvement plans required for accreditation,” according to a statement released through Langdon.

Health and Wellness is accredited through the nonprofit Public Health Accreditation Board, which assesses health departments to see if they meet or exceed a set of public health quality standards and measures. Being accredited builds your credibility and helps to secure grants, the department’s medical director, Dr. Lori Caloia, said in a previous interview.

Dr. Lori Caloia, medical director of Public Health and Wellness | Photo by Darla Carter

“Certainly, if you’re not accredited, groups will look at that and say why aren’t they accredited? Are they going to be able to meet the needs of a grant?” she said. With certain organizations, “you’re probably going to be more competitive if you’re an accredited health department.”

The Center for Health Equity, a division of the health department, has been instrumental in grant writing, and helping track whether Public Health and Wellness is meeting accreditation requirements and has done related paperwork tasks, Caloia said.

That center, which primarily focuses on things like the social determinants of health and other equity issues, was at risk of taking a major hit when Fischer unveiled his budget in April.

Instead, the center will experience “a slight reduction” in contractual services for things like health needs assessments, Langdon said. Two health program analyst positions being lost through attrition also loosely fall under the center via the Office of Addiction Services.

T. Gonzales, interim director of the center, released a statement saying the health department’s leadership “worked hard to come up with cost savings that will allow the Center for Health Equity to continue its work to make Louisville a healthier city where everyone and every community thrives. … I am happy and grateful that, if Metro Council approves the proposed budget, our work will continue.”

Gonzales also noted the center’s many roles, including examining the root causes of poor health status and implementing policies to address those root causes.

“Pursuing equity lies at the very core of improving population health and making us a healthier city,” Gonzales said.

The Louisville Metro Council’s Budget Committee begins budget hearings Monday, May 6, at 3:30 p.m. Public hearings are scheduled for Tuesday, May 7, at 6:15 p.m.; May 16 at 6:00 p.m. and May 20 at 6:00 p.m.

Darla Carter

Darla Carter

Darla Carter is a hometown girl who recently joined the staff of Insider Louisville to mostly cover health. She previously served as a longtime health and fitness writer for The Courier-Journal, where she also worked for the Metro, Neighborhoods and Features departments. Prior to that, the award-winning journalist wrote for newspapers elsewhere in Kentucky and Tennessee, covering a range of topics, from education to courts. She's a graduate of Western Kentucky University, where she studied journalism and philosophy, and is the proud mom of two young children.