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Public-Health Offices in ND Being Stretched by COVID

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According to Kaiser Health, per-capita spending for local public health departments across the United States has decline by 18% since 2010. (Adobe Stock)
According to Kaiser Health, per-capita spending for local public health departments across the United States has decline by 18% since 2010. (Adobe Stock)
 By Mike Moen - Producer, Contact
October 27, 2020

ROLLA, N.D. -- As COVID-19 continues to spread across North Dakota, more attention is being paid to hospital systems and their ability to withstand the latest wave. But public health offices also are feeling pressure, and some wonder if more funding would have better prepared their staffs.

The state health department made headlines this month citing a backlog and asking residents exposed to the virus to do their own contact tracing. It's an issue affecting local offices as well.

Barbara Frydenlund is director of nursing for Rolette County Public Health. She said the response work these offices have to perform can put a strain on day-to-day operations.

"Case investigation and contact tracing is very time consuming and labor intensive, along with testing," Frydenlund said.

She said more funding for emergency preparedness before the crisis could have created a quicker response in some situations. The state health department, which facilities state aid for local offices, says overall funding has been steady.

But Kaiser Health says North Dakota is among the 32 states that spend less than $100 a person annually on public health. Kaiser Health pegs North Dakota's annual spending at $83 per-person. And a separate United Health Foundation report says state and federal funding in North Dakota has gone down from $154 a person a few years ago to $113 today.

Frydenlund said the pandemic has put public health at the forefront, hopefully giving administrators more tools to work with in a future crisis.

"It has brought forth to people the importance of having a local public-health infrastructure that is prepared to respond," she said.

Frydenlund said prior to the pandemic, her office only received $4,000 annually for emergency preparedness. But she acknowledges it would have been hard to prepare for anything like they are experiencing right now. She says volunteers, including nurses coming out of retirement, have been a big help.

Meanwhile, state Senator Judy Lee, R-West Fargo, who chairs the Health Services Committee, says more CARES Act funding is being distributed to public health, while also noting administrators should engage more with their local lawmakers so they can advocate for resources.

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