Action News Jax Investigation: Duval Health Department slashes spending over last decade by 63%

Duval slashes health department spending

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Action News Jax investigates new numbers that say health department resources that are supposed to help keep you safe during the pandemic have been slashed.

It is based on a report that details funding for more than a decade in Florida and Duval County.

“It concerns me a lot,” says Alicia Williams, a mother and substitute teacher with the Duval County Public School District.

Content Continues Below

She is not alone. A new investigation by The Associated Press and Keiser Health News found Duval County cut health department staffing by 51% from 2008 to 2019, and slashed spending per person from $91 to just $34 — a whopping 63% decrease.

“It is not safe for children to go back to school at this time,” says Dr. Jeffrey Goldhagen, who served as the Director of the Duval County Health Department from 1993-2005, and is currently the Chief of the Department of Pediatrics at UF Health. Goldhagen gives the health department a failing grade and says they are failing families.

“The issue by policy is that Tallahassee has dismantled the public health departments statewide, and in particular Duval county,” Goldhagen said.

Goldhagen says the system has been dismantled by Florida governors Jeb Bush, Charlie Christ, Rick Scott, and now Ron DeSantis, and adds that the lack of personnel has resulted in, among other things, the agency not having the capacity required to conduct contact tracing, which means trying to curb COVID-19 by identifying and warning people about who has been exposed.

“Children will get infected, children will infect staff in the schools, children will go home and infect parents will go home and infect grandparents and other people at risk in particular minority communities,” says Goldhagen.

Action News Jax Ben Becker sent emails to both the Duval County Health Department and the Florida Department of Health to ask them about the investigation.

A spokesperson with the Duval Health Department sent a response on Sunday saying, “Hi, I believe our central office of communications will be following up about your request.”

A state spokesperson told Becker last week, “We are working on this and will advise ASAP,” but Becker never heard back.