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El Paso County commissioners eye $25K boost for health department

December 5, 2017 Updated: December 5, 2017 at 6:32 pm
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El Paso County commissioners offered local public health leaders a small budget boost Tuesday to combat pathogens such as hepatitis C.

The commissioners tentatively allocated an additional $25,000 to El Paso County Public Health's roughly $16 million 2018 budget, specifically to combat the spread of communicable diseases.

The move came after two commissioners a day earlier helped torpedo a nonprofit's bid to create a needle exchange here, echoing the Board of County Commissioners' stance.

Such exchanges are touted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as key for reducing bloodborne diseases, which are on the rise in El Paso County.

Rates of hepatitis C have more than doubled in the county since 2013, reaching 576 last year. Another 635 cases have been reported this year through Nov. 30.

After the county's Board of Health shut down the exchange proposal on Monday, Public Health Director Dan Martindale told The Gazette he would review other ways to address those rising infection rates through prevention programs. Such efforts, though, would likely require at least three to four more community health educators - money for whom did not exist.

Tuesday's budget proposal amounted to a fraction of the money needed for that work.

Still, Martindale said he was "pleasantly surprised," and said the money could be spent on a survey to better understand the issue.

"So this could definitely assist with that first phase, as it relates to assessment," he said.

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