Fayette health department layoffs likely

At least 25 of the 190 employees of the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department are likely to be laid off in coming months to cope with drastic cuts in state and federal funding.

While official funding reductions have not been announced, Dr. Rice Leach told the Board of Health on Tuesday that he expects $700,000 less from the state and a substantial decrease in federal money. Plus, he said, the department will be required to pay more into the state retirement system.

Leach said he's not eager to lose staff, but the reality is that department funding gets cut each year. He said staffers have been asking him for several months who might be cut and that the board needs to approve the budget for the next fiscal year soon.

"The truth is we are running out of time to make decisions that will impact 25 people," he said.

Leach told the board that he doesn't know where staff cuts will be made, but that the budget must include money for services the department is required to provide by state mandate. Those would include coping with health care emergencies, such as an outbreak of a contagious disease like whooping cough, he said.

Last year, the health department laid off 25 employees and ended funding the Bluegrass Aspendale Teen Center and the Center for Creative Living, a day program for elderly patients. It also eliminated a program providing health care to refugees and reduced the scope of mosquito spraying in the county.

Dr. Steve Davis, deputy commissioner for the state Department for Public Health, told the Lexington Board of Health last month that $40 million could be slashed from the statewide $475 million public health budget. There are 58 public health departments statewide.

Leach said the news was not all bad. He told the board that the cuts in funding give the department more incentive to reach out to other health providers in the community to care for Fayette County residents through creative partnerships.