Some legislators voiced skepticism about a $72.4 million “health and wellness initiative,” a portion of Gov. Bill Haslam’s budget that was reviewed in full for the first time on Tuesday.
The plan includes $43 million for an anti-smoking and anti-obsesity efforts. Most of that will go to programs targeting teenagers, pregnant women and women with infant children.
About $5 million goes to the obesity program with officials saying they hope to enhance the state money with $20 million to $27 million in private sector donations.
The administration is also counting $24 million for converting the University of Tennessee’s coal-fired steam plant to use natural gas as part of the “health and wellness initiative.”
The project was announced earlier as part of Haslam’s original budget proposal in February. The original proposal was altered somewhat with an amendment outlined Tuesday to the House and Senate Finance Committees.
The coal plant conversion money comes from tobacco company payments being made to the state to resolve lawsuits. Rep. Gary Odom, D-Nashville, questioned the conversion being part of a “health and wellness initiative” as well as involving tobacco money.
“I don’t see the relationship,” he said. “That’s a third of the tobacco settlement money (available to the state next year).”
“The logic behind that is that particular plant in Knoxville is one of the biggest air polluters in the region,” replied Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner, who outlined the initiative to the House Finance Committee with Finance Commissioner Mark Emkes.
The anti-smoking efforts were questioned by House Finance Committee Chairman Charles Sargent, R-Franklin, and House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga.
“That’s a lot of money and a lot of marketing,” said McCormick, suggesting the state has “some more immediate needs.” He also questioned whether it is necessary to explain the dangers of smoking, when most people are already aware of that – including smokers.
Sargent noted the state had allocated $10 million to an anti-smoking campaign in 2007 and added another $5 million two years later. He questioned whether that expenditure had done anything to reduce smoking among Tennesseans.
Dreyzehner said about 23 percent of Tennesseans smoke, according to most recent statistics, and “the needle has been moving down.” That indicates some anti-smoking efforts have been successful, he said, even though Tennessee’s spending on such programs has lagged far behind other states.
The new initiative will have long-term effect in reducing state spending on health care, he predicted, since it targets teenagers and mothers of small children.
By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The state is taking steps to make sure mistakes made at a Massachusetts-based compounding pharmacy blamed for a fatal meningitis outbreak don’t occur at similar centers in Tennessee, the state’s health commissioner said Wednesday.
John Dreyzehner told members of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee that what happened at the New England Compounding Center was preventable.
The outbreak, discovered in Tennessee in September, is linked to steroid injections from the center. Compounding pharmacies custom-mix medications in doses or in forms that generally aren’t commercially available.
“What happened in Massachusetts was tragic, but totally preventable,” Dreyzehner said.
In Tennessee, the commissioner said the number of people sickened by the outbreak is 147 with 14 deaths. Nationwide, 693 people have gotten sick and 45 people have been killed.
Meningitis is an inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord. Fungal meningitis is not contagious.
Dreyzehner said a task force formed by the state Board of Pharmacy has been discussing preventive measures, such as more regulation, and is expected to make recommendations at a hearing on Thursday.
He acknowledged that compounding pharmacy regulation is complex, but essential.
“We need to consider how to do these things more safely to make sure they don’t happen again,” he said.
Even though the fungal meningitis outbreak was discovered in Tennessee in September, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials say the earliest deaths tied to it date to July.
Health officials say as many as 14,000 people received the steroid shots, mostly for back pain. In early October, the company issued a nationwide recall of the steroid and ceased operations. Later that month, Massachusetts moved to permanently revoke the company’s pharmacy license after inspectors found unsterile conditions at its Framingham facilities.
State officials charge the company with violating its state license, which permitted the company to make drugs only for individual patients based on specific prescriptions. Instead, state officials say, the company made large batches of drugs for broad distribution.
Last month, a bankruptcy court judge froze the assets of the four owners of the company, clearing the way for creditors to determine what’s left of the millions the owners received from the firm.
Gov. Bill Haslam, Tennessee first lady Crissy Haslam, state Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner and Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero all received their seasonal flu vaccinations Thursday morning at the Knox County Health Department on Dameron Avenue, reports the News Sentinel. “I brought my wife with me so I would be OK,” quipped the governor, who gave a fake grimace when he received his shot from Jody Persino, an RN at the health department.
“We joke about it, but flu shots aren’t painful,” Haslam said. “We are trying to spread the message across Tennessee that certain preventative things are good for us. Getting a flu shot is an easy way to do that.”
The state Department of Health is proposing budget cuts for next year that go beyond the governor’s request for 5 percent reductions, reports Andrea Zelinski. The agency is offering to hand back $40 million if budget realities require it, Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner told the governor during a hearing last week.
“While we fervently wish these reductions were not necessary to propose, our economy and lack of further sources of non-recurring funds suggest regrettably that they are,” Dreyzehner said.
Dreyzehner’s office is suggesting scaling the department’s current $566 million budget back 7 percent next year.
The bulk of the cuts, about $25 million, would come from a drop-off of federal and state one-time funding for programs such as those that address shaken baby syndrome, epilepsy, diabetes, smoking cessation, and breast and cervical cancer.
The rest would be made by eliminating unfilled positions, shifting around state and federal dollars and chipping away costs in other programs.
Dreyzehner said these cuts would pose the “least impact” but contends continuing to encourage Tennesseans to live healthy lifestyles with fewer funds will be more challenging.
By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The fate of about $242 million in federal dollars that the state health department depends upon could be in jeopardy if a special deficit committee in Washington proposes drastic cuts, the agency’s chief said Tuesday.
Tennessee Health Department Commissioner John Dreyzehner gave the news to Gov. Bill Haslam and top members of his cabinet during a series of budget hearings.
In anticipation of a serious loss of federal money, the Republican governor has asked each state department to propose how they would spend 5 percent less than planned next year if necessary. Haslam has said he hopes the cuts won’t be that deep.
Nevertheless, the Health Department is proposing to spend $40 million less, which would do away with a number of primary health care centers for low-income Tennessee residents.
News release from Tennessee Right to Life:
Governor Haslam’s announcement today of Dr. John Dreyzehner drew quick response from the state’s leading pro-life organization which says Dreyzehner’s close association with a leading pro-abortion advocacy organization calls into question his suitability for the state’s top medical post.
According to Tennessee Right to Life, Dreyzehner was a featured presenter earlier this year at a conference of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association (NFPRHA), a group which, according to its website, exists to promote “reproductive freedom” and to lobby for unlimited abortion and the expansion of tax payer funding for agencies such as Planned Parenthood. That nationwide group calls itself ‘the voice for family planning’ and stresses the importance of “strengthening the Title X program,” an effort by the federal government which directs millions of tax dollars annually to Planned Parenthood affiliates around the nation.
Earlier this year during a 2011 NFPRHA conference, Dreyzehner joined a leading pro-abortion lobbyist, Rachel Benson Gold, to present a session entitled “Family Planning Workforce Challenges.” The seminar focused on assisting “reproductive health” agencies to position themselves to take full benefit of the coming federal health care programs. Benson Gold serves as public policy analyst for the Washington-based Guttmacher Institute, a group which strongly opposes pro-life legislation and which was originally organized as a research arm of Planned Parenthood.
Tennessee Right to Life has expressed deep disappointment in the Governor’s pick.
“After a legislative session in which pro-life majorities made clear their desire to bar the use of tax dollars for agencies such as Planned Parenthood, it appears that the Governor has invited a fox into the henhouse,” said Brian Harris, president of Tennessee Right to Life. “Dreyzehner’s active involvement with an organization so radically supportive of abortion makes clear that pro-life Tennesseans will have a continued fight in order to enforce even the most basic pro-life protections for unborn children and abortion vulnerable women in our state,” said Harris. Note: Asked for comment on the Right to Life release, Haslam spokesman David Smith sent this comment by email: “Tennesseans know the Governor is pro-life, and he looks forward to working with Dr. Dreyzehner toward a healthier Tennessee.”
News release from the governor’s office:
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced Dr. John Dreyzehner will join the administration to lead the Tennessee Department of Health. He will replace Susan Cooper, who after fulfilling her commitment to assist with the transition and the first legislative session has decided to pursue other opportunities.
“I am thankful Susan served the people of Tennessee as part of this administration,” Haslam said. “She is a passionate advocate for a healthier Tennessee, and we will continue to focus on initiatives that encourage our citizens to make positive choices to exercise and eat well. I have enjoyed working with her and wish her the best.”
“When I came to the state in 2005 from Vanderbilt University School of Nursing to develop the safety net, I had no idea that I would have the honor and privilege to serve as Commissioner of Health under two exceptional, health-focused governors, Bill Haslam and Phil Bredesen,” said Cooper, who has been commissioner since 2007. “I want to thank both governors for the opportunity to serve and their support of policies and programs that improve the health of Tennesseans.