Fort Bend County Health and Human Services has submitted a $2 million grant proposal to the Texas Department of State Health Services, seeking to add staff and create infrastructure needed to serve a county of almost 900,000, according to the department’s proposal.

Even before the pandemic, the county’s health services hadn’t kept pace with the population growth, and hasn’t completed a community health needs assessment since 2007 because of a lack of personnel, according to the grant proposal.

Health department spokesperson Rita Obey said July 14 that no one who works for Fort Bend County Health and Human Services, including herself, was available to be interviewed for this story. She said they were too busy.

But Jennifer Smith, the interim executive director of Texas Association of City & County Health Officials, said a Spring review of all 45 members of the association found local counties typically dedicated around 4 to 9 percent of the budget to health departments, compared to 20 percent for fire and police.

Local health departments do, however, receive at least some federal funding through the state health department to fund some local programs, Smith said.

Fort Bend County has allocated about $29.5 million on 295 full-time employees categorized as health and welfare-related on its 2021 budget, according to county budget documents. Departments under that grouping include the county’s indigent health care, animal services, emergency response and clinical health services.

A Public Health National Center for Innovations report in 2021 found the governmental public health workforce, which had already been operating with minimum staffing, has declined about 20 percent since 2008, according to the survey.

If Fort Bend County receives the money, health and human services would add about five professional or clinical staff and three disease investigators, according to the application.

Leaders would also use the money to establish a health equity team, address county mental health and establish a chronic disease division.

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