Health officials want $16M to hire field staff to fight TB, other diseases

Published 4:25 pm Friday, August 10, 2007

State health officials will ask lawmakers for an extra $16 million to hire more staff to work on cases of tuberculosis and other diseases.

The number of public health nurses employed by the state Department of Health has declined from 312 in 2003 to 283 today — not counting a number of contract nurses who also were let go. The number of disease intervention specialists declined from 50 to 34 over the same period, officials said.

With these extra nurses and disease specialists, “you track down the cases of syphilis or TB much more quickly. You interrupt transmission,” interim State Health Officer Dr. Ed Thompson told state Board of Health members Wednesday. “If you don’t have the people, you don’t interrupt transmission.”

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Thompson blames the staffing shortages for rises in syphilis, tuberculosis and infant mortality.

Last year, syphilis shot up 75 percent in Mississippi over the previous year. This year, the number of sexually transmitted disease cases are expected to go up 80 percent, officials have said.

In 2006, tuberculosis cases rose for the first time in 16 years. Thompson said another rise is expected this year.

Some additional nurses and field staff will come from eliminating $600,000 in spending and salaries at the central office, Thompson said.

The hiring of these additional nurses and field staff also will aid in decreasing infant mortality since about 20 percent of expectant mothers still get prenatal care from the Health Department, Thompson said.