Croker Sack

"Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard." — Henry Louis Mencken (1880-1956)

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Sun Spots: Innumeracy at The Sun

Today's editorial in The Sun would be amusing if not for the possibility that the writer was merely parroting the statements of Kitsap County Health District officials. Such stupidity in a local newspaper editor can be funny, but one would hope for greater cognitive ability in a health district leader.

Note this curious use of arithmetic:

The state-required communicable disease program, a projected $633,624 budget item, will cost the district $318,024 in local funds — but it isn't one of Kitsap County's most critical health needs.

Far more serious are the county's efforts to prevent death by injury or suicide. In recent years, unintended injury and suicide often have been the leading causes of death for residents ages 15 through 34. Despite those imposing statistics, preventing death by those causes isn't a state-mandated priority, and the county's program is funded 54 percent with local money.

The amount spent on injury and suicide prevention isn't stated, but the percentage of local funding for the two programs is roughly the same -- 50.2 percent for the communicable disease program and 54 percent for injury and suicide prevention (assuming The Sun did the latter computation correctly).

Beyond their innumeracy, The Sun also displays a lack of understanding of the essential function of a public health agency. Preventing accidental injuries and suicide isn't one of those essential functions--not even in the Kitsap County Health District's own description of its purposes:

The work of public health can be summarized in three categories:

Essential programs for improving health: Programs such as immunizations, communicable disease prevention, and chronic disease and injury prevention help individuals and communities stay healthy.

Information that works: Educational and training programs on everything from infant mortality to healthy aging, information on community health trends, and statewide health and safety information provide individuals and communities with information they can use to make good decisions.

Protecting you and your family every day: Services such as drinking water and recreational water quality monitoring, septic system inspections, restaurant inspections, hazardous waste control, disease prevention and planned community crisis response ensure individual and community health and safety.

Suicide and injury prevention happens to be one of the "priorities" identified for 2004, i.e., areas to be given special attention in an effort to improve overall conditions in our community.

A skeptic (OK, this writer) would wonder if the selection of suicide and injury prevention was the result of the typical bureaucratic urge to expand the bureaucracy beyond essential functions. But, whatever the motivation, it is hardly true that preventing the spread of communicable disease is less important.

For The Sun, a task chosen by the health district once essential functions were adequately covered became "one of Kitsap County's most critical health needs."

Such illogical thinking would be frightening, if it came from the leaders of the health district. We depend on the performance of essential functions, and those are the truly "critical" needs that must be met by the health district. Other things like suicide prevention programs can be done as time and resources allow, but health threats to the community as a whole cannot be given lesser priority relative to them.


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