BOSTON (CAP) - In a sign of the tough economic times, the state of Massachusetts will close its Department of Pubic Health, the governor's office announced this week.
"I realize that pubic health is very important, but with budgetary issues being what they are, it seems irresponsible to devote an entire department to it," said Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick. "Surely the services it provides can be covered by another department - Community Affairs, Human Services and Agriculture all come to mind."
The move drew immediate criticism from the Pubic Welfare Foundation, a Washington-based organization that "supports efforts to ensure pubic health and general well-being."
"It's very easy to cut pubic health resources, until you're the one who finds yourself in need of them," said PWF President Marion Reynolds. "And who among us can't say we've been in that boat?
"It makes me itchy just to think about it," she said. "With anger, I mean."
Massachusetts and its municipalities have been hit particularly hard by recent budget cuts, with major reductions to both the Boston Pubic Library and Worcester Pubic Schools. And the Cambridge Department of Pubic Works had to lay off half of its crew last month, according to Cambridge DPW director Karl Shamberger.
"The sad thing is, it's the residents who lose out," says Shamberger. "Their quality of life goes down if we have fewer men working on pubic projects."
Cambridge resident Sally LaRue agreed. "I know I felt better when there were more pubic works projects going on," she said. "Laying off those men did not benefit the pubic good."
LaRue said that while she doesn't work for the Pubic Works Department herself, she does hang around there a lot.
The closing of the Department of Pubic Health will be by far the biggest cut, however, with more than 75 employees affected. And the head of the department, Francis Carini, is crying foul.
"I've been trying to get in touch with the governor about this for weeks. We're the Department of Public Health, with an L!" he said. "This is all based on a typo - we're dealing with EEE and Lyme's disease and water quality here, not anything pubic."
Asked if the department had any pubic health responsibilities at all, Carini did admit that it fell under their purview, "but we just have one guy devoted to it, and frankly he's a little creepy."
He volunteered to lay that employee off "right this second if you want."
Meanwhile, other states have made notice of the brouhaha, and some have even taken the opportunity to chide Massachusetts over the issue.
"Public vs. pubic - that's classic," said former New York Gov. David Paterson. "I didn't mess that one up, and I'm freakin' blind."
- CAP News Staff