Proposed budget puts Health and Human Services Department classification at risk


Daily file photo by Katie Pach

Health and Human Services Director Evonda Thomas-Smith speaks at a city meeting. As part of Fiscal Year 2019 budget cuts, the city is proposing reductions to her departments.

Samantha Handler, Copy Chief

The proposed restructuring of Evanston’s Health and Human Services Department could put the unit’s status as a health department at risk, pending approval of the city’s fiscal year 2019 budget.

In the proposed 2019 budget — which contains a $7.4 million deficit — city staff recommends the elimination of several positions within the department, including the communicable disease surveillance specialist. Illinois state law requires the position to be filled for the department to be considered a recognized health department.

“That’s a mandated service that by law that we have to conduct to be a local health department,” said Evonda Thomas-Smith, Evanston’s Health and Human Services director. “So it could really compromise our ability to operate.”

The proposed 2019 budget is about $319 million, down around $19 million from last year’s numbers. To fill the hole created by the deficit, staff recommended employee reductions to eight departments, including cutting seven Health and Human Services Department positions.

According to Illinois public health laws, mandated reporters of infectious diseases — such as health care providers and hospitals — must report any suspected or confirmed cases of communicable diseases to the Health and Human Services Department.

The Illinois Department of Public Health lists having a Division of Infectious Diseases as one of the roles and responsibilities of a health department. The Department of Public Health says the offices, divisions and sections outlined the code are “critical to the Department of Public Health emergency response and recovery functions.”

The communicable disease surveillance specialist collaborates with medical providers and residents to investigate those reports. They also partner with healthcare and public health agencies to control infectious disease outbreaks.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said it is his understanding that some of the proposed cuts would jeopardize the department’s classification as a health department, but that it is something the city could “contend with.”

“I think it’s a designation that describes the services that we provide,” Bobkiewicz said. “I think the lack of designation does not have any other material impacts to us. The reality is that if the council moves forward with our proposed budget reductions we will be doing less things.”

The other cuts to the Health and Human Services Department include the elimination of the Vital Records Program — which provides copies of birth and death certificates — and cutting three Human Services Advocate positions, one of which is vacant. The proposal also suggests the removal of the currently vacant assistant director of public health position.

The proposed budget also includes a $250,000 cut to the Mental Health Board funds and a proposal to enter into a contract with the YWCA to provide crisis response for domestic violence victims after the reductions to the Human Services Advocate positions.

Ald. Cicely Fleming (9th) said she is concerned about the proposed cuts to both the board and department. She said that since Evanston is quite a distance from the nearest county hospital and its health department is primarily concerned with connecting residents to services, the cuts could have broad effects.

“If we lose (services) and the ability to make these fast connections with our health department I am concerned people are not getting the services they need or connecting to the services they need,” Fleming said.

Thomas-Smith said she is writing a budget memo on how the proposed cuts to her department would affect their operation, which will be a part of the budget packet at the Oct. 22 City Council meeting.

Kristina Karisch contributed reporting.

Twitter: @sn_handler