Streams

City Could Eliminate Office of Minority Health, Other Heath Programs

Monday, March 19, 2012

The city has proposed eliminating its Office of Minority Health.

In City Council budget hearings Monday, Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said the department could better serve minority communities with other programs, including a group of front-line Heath Department offices in the city’s poorest neighborhoods.

“This does not reflect in any way a reduction in commitment to health disparities to communities of color that have high rates of health problems,” Farley said, “but a different way of approaching it.”

The Health Department created the office in 2004, to foster relationships with community groups, especially faith-based organizations. According to its website, the office’s goals included “link[ing] the faith community to needed health care services and other health resources” and “enlist[ing] the assistance of faith leadership in disseminating public health information.” In recent years, the office had four staffers and a budget of around $300,000.

Farley said the same functions would continue, but reside in other offices within his agency.

Several members of the council’s Health Committee asked Farley to reconsider. Leticia James, from Brooklyn, said the city could best serve communities like hers with a dedicated office.

“I would think this administration, under your leadership, would have a separate office focused on communities of color because of the health disparities within these communities,” James said.

The Health Department also wants to discontinue an STD education and testing program based in city high schools.  Farley said the program was a good one, but doesn’t reach enough people.

He said those students could go to city STD clinics or school-based health centers. Council members objected that most of the schools with the STD program don’t have full health centers.

“If we had all the money in the world, we’d love to test every student in high school, but we’re not going to get to that point,” Farley said. “It’s an important program, but we had to find cuts somewhere.”

Farley also said budgets cuts would lead to reduced spending on tobacco cessation efforts.

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