Friday marked the last of a series of first-time health forums held across Kansas this year to inform concerned citizens of legislative and other changes concerning public health.



Local health officials and Rep. Ty Masterson presented the meeting at the Civic Center.


Friday marked the last of a series of first-time health forums held across Kansas this year to inform concerned citizens of legislative and other changes concerning public health.

Local health officials and Rep. Ty Masterson presented the meeting at the Civic Center.

In the first segment of the meeting, Masterson discussed some of the various issues he and other legislators dealt with and explained the challenge of deciding which to confront.

“It’s about balancing who really needs funding,” Masterson said. “While there are plenty of groups out their behind these great causes, we have limits so we have to figure out who needs help the most and how we can best help the public.”

Masterson took questions as well. In response to a suggestion of if tobacco could be taxed further to support health initiatives, Masterson explained that such a move likely wouldn’t prove wise. He said if such taxes were applied, with the likely result of reducing sales of that product, there would be no back-up source to fund supported health initiatives from.

Another concern was expressed by attendee Benny Boman about health care related fraud and what reform the government is planning to make. Boman was concerned about how much computers were depended on to deal with health care systems and a lack of human oversight, a concern Masterson agreed needs to be dealt with and is being looked into. He said those involved with the issue are split, with some wanting to move more toward socialized medicine. Masterson however hopes to move away from socializing medicine, pointing to the positive cost benefits for consumers as a lack of socialization increases competition between different health services. Other questions covered more diverse topics, from immigration to local job growth.

In the last segment, Cheryl Bañez-Ocfemia of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment gave a presentation on pandemic influenza. Pandemic influenza is a flu strain easily spread and causes severe side effects which nobody has immunity to. Given the time gaps between previous outbreaks, the medical community is already preemptively preparing for another such outbreak, which they believe could happen theoretically within the next few years. She explained how $6 million has been allotted to local health departments already.

Preparation for an outbreak is a large-scale collaborative effort and the plan for dealing with such an event is under constant revision by health officials. One of the more troublesome challenges being looked at is continuity in society, as a pandemic influenza outbreak would cause widespread closure of businesses essential to daily life, from grocery stores to banks and even gas stations. Bañez-Ocfemia said some of the simplest preventative steps are for everyone to stay in the habit of staying home and avoiding personal contact with others when they get sick. In the meantime, health departments are tackling the more complex aspects for prevention, including improving their anti-viral cache and streamlining communication further.

A number of “sentinel sites” have been established across the state as well to monitor for flu break-outs. These sites will ideally help increase reaction time and halt the spread of a new strain before it is able to cause much damage.