Last Thursday night, the Rockland County Legislature Budget & Finance Committee discussed the with the heads of the County Highway department and Health department as part of the legislature's budget review process.
“Ultimately this is the county’s proposed budget and the department head has to come here and defend it,” said Ilan Schoenberger, county legislator.
Here is what's been discussed so far:
- Rocklanders’ Reliance On Social Services Increasing
- Sheriff Makes Case For Restoration Of Budget Cuts
- Proposed County Budget—Public Safety Concerns (Highway Department)
- Proposed County Highway Layoffs May Reduce Service
- Legislature Debates Cuts In General Services
It was an emotional night last week for members of the county health department. Health Commissioner Joan Facelle fought for the 12.5 positions that are being cut in the department and also announced her plans to retire at the end of January.
One message that was repeated was the fact that cutting one position does not equal cutting one program or service, but actually will result in a cut back in many services and programs in the department since most employees wear many hats and are involved with multiple programs.
“I was laid off the first round because of seniority, I was bumped and had to go through the whole trauma of bumping someone else off,” said Laurie Messinger. “I’ve been lucky to stay in health education and continue to do the work I love to do.”
Messinger runs the breast feeding program, childhood injury prevention program and assists in other tasks such as emergency preparedness and helmet safety. However, her programs are at risk at being cut as is her position.
“These programs are not budgeted programs (but) there is a need for it. As much as hospitals can help, when mothers go home, they need help reaching their breast feeding goals. There are a lot of health benefits from breast feeding,” said Messinger.
When she returned from her maternity leave, she was asked to begin the breast feeding program and since many employees are wearing many hats, she “was also advised to do something in childhood injury prevention. It was a perfect marriage with what I was doing with the breast feeding program because I was already working with mothers in the community.”
“I do feel these programs are very important to the residents. I love what I do, I love helping residents, I love my job,” said Messinger.
Hired 20 years ago, Carrie Steindorff has worked in many different parts of the health department over the last two decades and currently occupies the school health and wellness position, which is at risk at being cut.
“This is not a program. It’s a position that does many things in terms of health promotion,” she said. ““It’s hard when you’re so passionate about something.”
She works with the “community and schools to create sustainable change in policies, practices and environments that increased access to physical activity, better nutrition and tobacco prevention.”
In Rockland County, 32 percent of teenagers are overweight or obese. Although the national average is 32 percent, the number is higher in some communities in Rockland, said Steindorff. She added that she’s concerned with this large and growing number because of the lifetime health problems that come with early obesity.
Like many in the department, Steindorff is a “Jane of many trades” and is involved in initiatives such as farm to school and the smoking cessation program. She said that the smoking rate in Rockland is 9.5 percent, which makes it the lowest in the state.
“It ‘s been amazing. I think it’s very important what you do,” Legislature Chairwoman Harriet Cornell.
Another employee in the health department that addressed the legislators was Sarah Moyna, a dietician who has been in the prenatal clinic since August. She echoed Messinger and Steindorff saying that many employees multitask.
“I was dietician in the HIV clinic …. Although I was bumped to prenatal clinic in August, I still do the first job too. We wear many hats. A lot of us do other work. We’re already doing the work. We already have the people to (run these programs). We already have the programs set up,” said Moyna. “You’re not just cutting what’s just on that paper. We all do (so much more) than what’s on that paper. Losing one person ends up losing a lot more services too.”
“These are great programs that we need in the community,” said Aney Paul, legislator. “They are teaching whole communities. They’re going out and teaching. That’s a big job. Children are our future.”
Check back with Patch for a second update on this, which will look at the reactions from employees, whose positions are at risk of being cut, and reactions from the public.