As a nurse and long-time community advocate for HIV/AIDS patients, substance abuse treatment and the homeless, I can remember experiencing each of the annual Governor’s Budget announcements with great anticipation, anxiety and excitement. Then and now, I have always believed that our state budget truly sets the tone and backs up our values and convictions as government, and most importantly, as communities.
With that, I wanted to take a few minutes to walk you through the Governor’s proposed FY15 House 2 recommendations and sketch out what this year’s budget means for the Department.
To begin, some important framing: we cannot forget that this budget comes on the heels of positive yet fluctuating tax collections over the past year, a revenue package that largely did not get adopted in FY14, and an economy that is on its way to recovery. As such, this is a year to solidify important core infrastructure investments and shore up our programs for future challenges.
With that, I am gratified at the level of the Governor’s support of DPH in his budget recommendations. The Department’s FY15 proposed funding is $565,534,643, which represents a modest – but important – 1% increase from FY14. Most significantly, this represents stable, largely maintenance funding for FY15, preserving critical resources we fought so hard for in FY14 for new or expanded regulatory services, while making important investments in substance abuse, climate change and preparedness, and violence prevention.
These critical investments continue to enhance the Department’s ability to meet its regulatory responsibilities – from beach and air quality testing to hospital and nursing home surveillance and our Board of Pharmacy. We must continue to recognize how vitally important these investments are to our Commonwealth’s health and safety.
Of course, it goes without saying that none of what this budget proposes will be possible without your vocal support and dedicated advocacy on behalf of the Department and the Governor’s Budget over the coming weeks as this process unfolds.
Public Health Pricing Strategies:
As you may have heard, the Governor has reintroduced an end to the sales tax exemption for soda and candy, generating an estimated $57M in FY15 alone. These funds will be deposited into the Commonwealth Health and Prevention Fund, directly supporting key programs within DPH, including Addiction Control Services, Children and Family Health and Nutrition, Health Promotion, Violence Prevention, and Workforce Expansion.
This reform will incentivize healthy behaviors and decrease use of products that we know have adverse health consequences for our communities – as well as huge cost effects on our health system. With more than half of all Massachusetts adults and almost one third of high school and middle school students overweight or obese, now is the time to act.
Increased Investments in Substance Abuse.
As you may know, state law allows for persons who present a likelihood of serious harm due to their substance abuse to be involuntarily committed for a period of up to 90 days. This law is referred to as “Section 35” and persons committed are referred to as “civilly committed”.
Since 2006, Massachusetts has seen a 67% increase in the number of civilly committed individuals – a dramatic indicator of the ongoing impact of a substance abuse epidemic in the Commonwealth. As a community health advocate and longtime nurse, I have seen first-hand the real-world effect of this rising tide of substance abuse, and I am committed as Commissioner to work with our Bureau of Substance Abuse Services as well as partners across state government to tackle this health crisis.
To meet this significant increase of civil commitments, and to better serve our clients in appropriate, recovery-centered settings, the Governor’s budget includes the critical annualization of $10M to ensure the continued and supported expansion of new “downstream” bed capacity, as well as an additional $1.3M in new intake and detoxification services, systems, and infrastructure to support individuals in recovery.
Climate Change and Preparedness
You may have heard that last week the Governor announced plans for directed investments towards climate change and preparedness. Today’s budget announcement includes critical funding for DPH to develop additional programs and strategies to assist local boards of health with the impacts of climate change, including an analysis and monitoring of disease in oysters and mosquitoes as well as training and providing technical assistance to local boards of health in order to increase their capacity to respond to climate change issues.
Through an Executive Order timed to coincide with his budget proposals, the Governor has appointed a school safety task force led by EOHHS Secretary John Polanowicz with a stated directive to develop strategies and best practices to help prepare our schools for potential responses to tragic events like what we witnessed in Newtown, CT. I am pleased to announce that Bureau of Community Health and Prevention Director Carlene Pavlos and Office of Preparedness and Emergency Management Director Mary Clark have been appointed to this task force, ensuring that our expertise in the area of violence prevention can meaningfully contribute to this vitally important discussion.
In closing, the Governor’s FY15 recommendations for DPH allow us to preserve the critical resources which we’ve fought so hard for during the last year for new or expanded regulatory services, while advancing three very important reforms for which I am asking your full support. Thank you as always for your hard work and dedication – let’s continue to work together to build a strong public health framework that truly reflects our values as a vibrant, healthy Commonwealth.