Investigations of sexually transmitted diseases, tainted water might stop during shutdown

Sexual-disease investigations, the monitoring of lakes and beaches for water contamination and nurse visits to pregnant women in need all would dwindle starting July 1 under a potential state government shutdown, the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department reported Thursday.

The county health agency said in a news release it anticipates 42 temporary layoffs from 14 programs, from child health care to testing of yard soils for dangerous lead and arsenic pollution from the former Asarco smelter. State funding affected by a shutdown accounts for about 23 percent of the Health Department’s total budget, which for 2017 is $34.5 million.

“Even a temporary delay in state funding damages our ability to protect the public’s health,” agency director Anthony L-T Chen said in the statement. “This political impasse puts the health and safety of our residents at risk.”

A shutdown could happen if lawmakers in Olympia cannot hammer out a statewide budget agreement by June 30. State agencies also are preparing to lay off employees and suspend services if a deal is not reached.

If the shutdown lasted longer than two weeks, the Health Department anticipates further layoffs, including restaurant inspectors and permitting officials for water and well systems, according to the statement.

The immediate layoffs would take away half the department’s capacity to track and test outbreaks of gonorrhea, syphilis and chlamydia to a patient’s at-risk sexual partners, as well as sending home 11 nurses from the pregnancy-support program and stop all safety monitoring at shellfish-harvesting beaches, according to the news release.

State officials separately warned that a shutdown could jeopardize other health-related services, including severe reductions at public labs that test for an array of disorders.

Derrick Nunnally: 253-597-8693, @dcnunnally