Fifteen years ago, a boy was born to a mother imprisoned for drug use in Washoe County. With the first father recovering from addiction and caring for a child with health problems, a nurse from the Washoe County Health District made 17 home visits thanks to a program for at-risk newborns. The child showed developmental improvements nine months later, benefiting from various safety net services.
However, in 2014, the Washoe County Health District had to suspend its program due to lack of funding, leaving at-risk children without support and services. In Southern Nevada, a similar program for low-income, mostly minority households with newborns and children under two was closed in 2019. Nevada has been ranked 50th for public health funding for decades, spending $72 per person compared to the national average of $116 per person.
The Public Health Improvement Fund, proposed in Senate Bill 118, offers the opportunity to increase investment in public health. This bipartisan bill would provide health officials with roughly $4 per person in funding based on population served, allowing for greater flexibility and better response to local needs and changing circumstances.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, public health officials were initially unable to use funds specifically designated for prevention and similar services, highlighting the need for greater flexibility in the public health sector. The Public Health Improvement Fund can also help address health inequalities affecting disadvantaged and culturally diverse populations.
Investment in public health not only saves lives, but it can also yield economic returns, with every dollar invested estimated to yield approximately $4. Investing in disease care instead of prevention and healthy behaviors has led to neglect of public health, making the Public Health Improvement Fund proposed in SB118 essential for a better Nevada.