HSNW conversation with Dr. John R. FinneganPublic health expert: budget cuts will erode response capabilities

Published 7 March 2012

Homeland Security NewsWire’s executive editor Eugene K. Chow recently got the opportunity to speak with Dr. John R. Finnegan, the dean of the University of Minnesota School of Public Health; in their interview, Dr. Finnegan discusses the devastating effects of proposed budget cuts on the U.S. public health system, why it was a wise decision to censor the release of H5N1 flu research; and the creation of a medical reserve corps at universities

Dr. John R. Finnegan, dean of UM School of Public Health // Source: University of Minnesota

Homeland Security NewsWire: In recent years, worries over a pandemic flu sweeping across the globe have made headlines several times. Given the increased focus on the issue in the last few years, has the United States made adequate preparations to respond effectively to a global flu incident?

Dr. John Finnegan: We’ve certainly come a long way, there’s no question about that. The federal expenditures have helped us develop plans, create the national stockpiles, and ramp up the competencies of the public health work. In some ways, it’s a tough question to answer whether we’ve done enough. In some ways, you can answer the “have we done enough” question when something happens and you can judge what the results are.

One of my biggest concerns right now in light of federal budgetary issues is that we may lose some of the ground that I think we have gained. Lots of people like my good friend Michael Osterholm (the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy) will have many strong opinions about additional areas we need to improve in, but for me the biggest issue right now is the loss of funding, at least with the current budget proposals, and what that actually means for our state of preparedness.

I tend to look at this a bit like military training, where the job of training is never done. It’s never completed – you have new people coming in, you have new systems that need to be learned, and new processes and procedures. I know here in Minnesota, given the centers that we have here that are oriented towards public health training, I know that the job of training is never done. I put that out there because I really do believe that the funding that has gone into public health preparedness from DHS, CDC, all the federal agencies, and states, has gone a long way in taking us from total inadequate preparation to a heightened state of preparation. But, preparedness is one of those things that if you don’t pay attention to it every day you could lose it in a flash.

HSNW: On that note, are there any particular programs that have been slated for cuts that you’re most concerned with preserving funding for?