The 2021 Legislative session has begun like any other, with the annual speeches from leaders. The circumstances of the session, however, are unlike any other, as we work to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic has exposed our public health institutions’ lack of preparedness. Because of our failure to invest in public health technology, our data collection abilities have been severely limited. We have seen significant cuts to public health budgets due to huge tax breaks for corporations and wealthy Iowans. Unfortunately, the majority of Iowans are suffering because of those cuts. Over 4200 people have needlessly lost their lives.
Twice over the last ten years, the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) has endured an 11% budget cut. After one of those cuts, the IDPH director met with legislators in their home districts to discuss his concerns about the direction the department would be forced to take on a limited budget. That year, some states had the goal of eradicating HIV. IDPH narrowed its goal to reducing childhood obesity and struggled to carry out many of the other duties of public health institutions: STD prevention, public health disaster preparedness, and substance abuse prevention. Budget cuts matter. Where you put your money is a statement of your priorities. Clearly, public health has not been a Republican priority.
Iowans have a hard time trusting the government. Our leadership has given them no reason to. It doesn’t help that when we are in the middle of a global pandemic, the largest public health crisis in 100 years, that the public health information director was fired for performing her duties. It doesn’t help that the state epidemiologist was given a 45% raise on July 1 while we were in a transition from one director to another while many state employees have not had a raise since 2007. It doesn’t help that data and definitions are changed on a regular basis.
Iowans’ health is not, and cannot be, a partisan issue. We must remove politics from public health.
Iowans are refusing to wear facemasks. How absurd is that? This indicates a lack of trust in leadership. Now we hear, louder than ever, the voices of those who doubt the safety of vaccines. We need our public health leaders to be trusted individuals interested in facts and not partisan hacks.
Public health must be independent from partisan politics and still remain a function of government. Shouldn’t we value our health more than we value our money. We can’t have a healthy economy without healthy Iowans.
Over 4200 Iowans have died due COVID-19. Many of those deaths were preventable. We must do better.