The state Health Department could lose millions of federal dollars if Congress cannot reach a budget agreement by March 1.
If a process known as sequestration commences, the state Health Department could lose an estimated $9.4 million in federal money that's leveraged with about $490,000 in state-appropriated matching funds.
Casualties also could include a loss of 17 jobs at the state Health Department and 10 at state contractor locations.
Julie Cox-Cain, the chief operating officer at the state Health Department, said these are the most severe budget cuts she has seen in her 22 years at the department.
“We do have systems in place to try to protect people and prevent disease every day that is hidden to people because it is prevention, but it's really necessary in order to keep diseases from plaguing our community,” Cox-Kain said. “We're preventing things every day, and continued reductions have the possibility of hindering that or becoming a real problem for us.”
The process known as sequestration relates to a federal law known as the Budget Control Act of 2011.
The law mandated that the federal budget deficit had to be reduced by $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years, according to the state Health Department.
The deadline for lawmakers to reach that agreement has been postponed to March 1.
Unless the deadline is either moved or an agreement is reached, $1 trillion in automatic cuts will commence.
If sequestration commences, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will see budget cuts that could trickle down to Oklahoma, including at the state Health Department.
The state of Oklahoma provides about 16 percent of the state Health Department's budget.
About 60 percent is from federal funding.
Cox-Kain said part of the reason this would have such an impact on the department relates to previous state budget cuts.
From 2009 to 2011, the state Health Department saw an 18 percent reduction in the money it receives from the state.
It did not see a budget cut in 2012.
The agency instituted two voluntary buyout offers and is down 300 full-time employees.
Officials from the state Health Department anticipate that sequestration would affect programs that protect vulnerable populations and the general public from infectious disease and man-made or natural disasters, according to an agency document.
The department does this through programs, such as its disease surveillance programs, which many people probably don't know exist.
For example, the state Health Department monitors flu activity in Oklahoma. In 2009, this proved important.
The H1N1, or Swine flu, pandemic killed 48 people in Oklahoma. H1N1 was detected through the efforts of local surveillance programs in the U.S., Cox-Kain said.
“(Disease surveillance) allows us to see if we've got an organism that's either circulating in the community where we need to go in and intervene and stop it, or we have a novel organism that's circulating which we think our population may not be adequately protected against,” she said.