OLEAN – Nutrition programs in Cattaraugus County and other health services supported by the federal government may be in jeopardy if the government’s financial shutdown continues, according to county officials.
County Public Health Director Dr. Kevin Watkins said no additional money will be available from the federal government for the Women, Infant and Children (WIC) nutrition program for expectant mothers, infants and young children. He said, however, that the state Health Department has some funds to support the program, but it will not be enough to keep it going if the shutdown continues for long.
“We will be continuing our operations as long as we continue to have the funds from the state,” Watkins said. “We need to develop a contingency plan, should this shutdown continue for an extended period.”
Watkins said the direction from the state Health Department is to continue operations as normal, without interruption.
Other areas of service in the county may be affected if the shutdown continues for a prolonged period, Watkins told the board. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will not be able to support the annual influenza programs, technical support for testing for HIV, tuberculosis and sexually transmitted diseases will not be available, and some interruption in disaster preparedness services is expected.
Watkins said the federal Department of Health and Human Services wants to maintain a minimal level of readiness and staffing for hazard preparations, but that level was not defined.
As for funding of programs, such as WIC, board member Dr. Gilbert Witte, of the Olean Medical Group, suggested looking into using county contingency funds from the budget to fill the gaps that may occur.
The County Health Department serves several thousand clients each year with an operating budget of about $40,000 a month. Of the nine employees in the department, only three are county employees. The remaining six are contractors.
As the shutdown continues, Watkins said he and his staff would monitor the situation.