CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - FOX19 is ,"Keeping You Safe," as one of the oldest diseases on the planet, makes a creepy comeback in Cincinnati.
"Between disease outbreaks, H1N1, bedbug problems, it seems like every month there's a new challenge for us," said Rocky Merz, Public Information Officer with the Cincinnati Health Department.
Diseases are on the rise, right as the City's Health Department could be looking at cuts among their lab workers and among school nurses.
There are a couple of obstacles facing the Health Department. Funding for dozens of school nurses is questionable until the budget gets balanced. And syphilis, which has been around since biblical times, is making a big comeback here in the Queen City.
Lab technicians inside the Health Department process something like 50 or more tests a day. But in a few weeks, at least 20 of their jobs may be in jeopardy, and that will trigger serious delays in care for thousands.
"We're here working every day, behind the scenes, keeping people safe," Merz said. "And there's certainly a value to that."
It is quite a deal, when you consider, syphilis cases in Cincinnati have quadrupled in the last three years.
"We've had over 200 confirmed cases just in 2010," Merz said.
Lab techs Alvenia Ross and Mary Beth Kramer handle the testing for the syphilis outbreak.
"We perform that downstairs at our STD clinic," Merz said. "It serves the entire region, we're able to perform the testing right here."
And the labs will get the results right here within one day. The services they provide at their Corrigible labs are invaluable, not just in Cincinnati, but all over the region.
"They're the back-up laboratory for the State of Ohio," Merz said. "In case of a human-made or a natural disaster or there's some kind of disease outbreak."
Case in point, the H1N1, bed bugs and the current medical chart-topper in the Queen City, syphilis.
"It's easily treated with antibiotic treatment," Merz said. "If you know you have it."
"Right now," he said. "We can immediately do the testing here, likewise, in recent years, we've had shigella outbreaks in the pools, we've done thousands of tests immediately here at our lab, instead of having to send them up to the State."
And that process, he said, could take up to a week or more, just to get the results back.
Merz said, right now, there is a Health Department nurse in every Cincinnati Public Elementary School.
"Often times it's their only access to healthcare," Merz said, especially with economically challenged families.
"Right now," he said. "The City and CPS share the cost of the nurses, and the City Manager has recommended that mid next year, CPS pay for a larger portion of that."
But CPS is facing it's own challenges, so in the event of a widespread, public health emergency, Merz said there's no need to panic yet.
"The start date for any outsourcing in the lab wouldn't be until February," Merz said. "So this is the first step of the process, a lot can change."
There are still plenty of budget revisions to come before City Council signs off on anything. The Health Department hopes the layoffs will be seen as a last resort. And said, after years of making due with less, they want to at least keep the staff they have right now, so there are no delays in care or testing, for people who need public health the most.
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