State to reduce Public Health job count

Barely a month before becoming an independent agency, the state Division of Public Health has been told it must shed 186 positions.

Public Health has hundreds of unfilled positions as a result of budget cuts over recent years, so it’s possible that all the jobs that will disappear are currently vacant.

The Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget ordered the cuts as part of the fiscal 2012 budget.

Jobs to be eliminated “could either be fully or partially federally funded,” but the cuts are being made irrespective of funding, a Public Health spokeswoman said in an email Tuesday to Georgia Health News.

”The goal is to cut positions, not dollars,’’ said the email from spokeswoman Kallarin Richards.

Brian Robinson, a spokesman for Gov. Nathan Deal, said in an email that the job cuts are part of the governor’s recommendation for agencies “to remove vacant unfunded positions off the state’s books.”

“We’re reducing the authorized state workforce by 14,000 overall,’’ Robinson said in an email.

An article by the AJC’s James Salzer in January reported that budget officials said large savings could come from eliminating unfilled jobs. Some agencies have been collecting funding for unfilled jobs for years, the article reported.

Yet the Public Health unit, with a $600 million budget and more than 1,000 employees, has undergone budget reductions in past years despite an increase in the state’s population.

A new analysis by the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, a research and education organization, said that since the originally enacted fiscal 2009 budget, state General Fund support to Georgia public health and emergency preparedness programs has dropped by more than 13 percent.

Georgia trails other Southeastern states in per capita spending on public health.

The Public Health unit will become an independent agency July 1, with its own board and commissioner. It is currently part of the state Department of Community Health.

The Georgia General Assembly voted this year to create the new department. The push to make the change was fueled by the need for more visibility, clout and accountability for Public Health. The state has lagged on measures such as infant mortality, child obesity and cardiovascular disease.