Health department's role needs to be visible and outspoken for proper public care

It's great news that the Florida Department of Health in Highlands County reversed its plans to close most of the services it had been offering in Lake Placid. It took some angry leaders from the city, school and county to get it done, though.

The health department quietly cut its medical and dental service in Lake Placid Feb. 24. Elected officials didn't learn of it until recently and were upset that the people most in need of these services cannot necessarily travel to Sebring to attain this kind of care. The health department reversed course Friday and announced it would offer those services every other Friday in Lake Placid.

The health department has faced reduced funding and slashed positions. Just about every government entity and private business faced the same situation over the last several difficult years. It's our hope that as more revenue flows back into the state that funding can be restored to health departments to provide more services instead of less.

Highlands County is a low-income county by state standards. There are a lot of people who cannot afford basic health care and depend on the health department to meet their needs. That's exactly what the health department's mission should be. Cutting services without hardly anyone knowing is a poor way to operate.

Administrator Mary Kay Burns should have a very visible and vocal role informing the public about what's going on and if there are funding issues. She also needs to make her case vocally to our elected officials, such as state Sen. Denise Grimsley, Sen. Bill Galvano and state Rep. Cary Pigman. They should be fighting in Tallahassee to make sure counties like Highlands has a robust health department that offers our communities services.

The health department claimed they cut back services because there didn't seem to be a big need, judging by how many people used the services. That might be true. It's also possible that the health department isn't doing a good job reaching out to the most needy people to make sure their basic health care needs are being addressed. There's no denying the need in this county and the many low income people living throughout the area.

Providing this service every other Friday in Lake Placid is a nice start. It never should have ended in the first place, but at least it's back. Let's hope the health department now takes on a new, proactive role making sure that the people who need care are getting it.