Poor outcomes tied to health department cuts

Poor outcomes tied to health department cuts

Betty BekemeierReductions in local health departments’ spending on maternal and child health programs are strongly related to increased rates of low-birth-weight babies, according to a study by Dr. Betty Bekemeier, a UW associate professor of nursing.
“Low-birth-weight infants are extremely costly to our healthcare system and to families and, even more important, have negative long-term effects on these babies – even well into adulthood,” Bekemeier said.

The study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, was the first multi-state study to explore the impact of budget cuts to maternal child health services over time and to demonstrate a relationship between spending and health outcomes.

Bekemeier and research colleagues explored 11 years of data from 102 county health departments across Washington and Florida. Their findings indicate that local health department spending overall can positively affect infant mortality.

While local health departments do not often provide prenatal care directly, Bekemeier thinks that community programs are integral to healthy pregnancies.
“Our study really underscores the value of local health department services around maternal and child health, particularly in needy communities.  These findings come at a time when those same services have been in jeopardy,” she said.

Academy Health, a research and policy organization, chose this groundbreaking research, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, as the Public Health Systems Research (PHSR) Article of the Year Award. The article was praised for its innovative and meticulous methods to demonstrate the elusive return on investment for public health.
“Sophisticated methods are required to rigorously analyze long-term, systems-level health outcomes related to public health investment,” said Beth Resnick of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the 2015 PHSR Interest Group Advisory Committee Chair.
“Such findings are critical to informing policymakers about how best to invest the health dollar,” she said. “Bekemeier and colleagues have  contributed significantly to the evidence base, and advanced the field of PHSR with this application of data.”