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Dr. Leana Wen: Hogan’s withholding of funds could be death sentence for some

I learned Wednesday from reading the newspaper that Gov. Larry Hogan is refusing to allocate $80 million in General Assembly funding set aside to support critical health, educational, and other social programs across the state.

Dr. Leana Wen, Baltimore’s health commissioner. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

Dr. Leana Wen, Baltimore’s health commissioner. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

This includes $1 million funding for Safe Streets, a decision that will force every one of our Safe Streets sites in Baltimore to cease operations within the fiscal year unless we provide additional resources to supplement existing federal, local and private funding. Additionally, this decision will cut services for the B’More for Healthy Babies program, reducing care to Baltimore’s pregnant women and children.

Gov. Hogan’s decision is a death sentence to these life-saving initiatives that are serving our most vulnerable.

The loss of funding for Safe Streets will unravel the work that has been accomplished over the course of the last nine years by our dedicated outreach workers, violence interrupters and community partners. Baltimore launched the Safe Streets program by adopting a national model called Cure Violence, which employs credible messengers to serve as outreach workers and violence interrupters to break cycles of violence and stop shootings before they happen.

This evidence-based approach has proven incredibly effective. In 2015 alone, our Safe Streets staff mediated nearly 700 conflicts, the majority of which would have resulted in gun violence. Three of our sites have previously gone a year or longer without a firearm homicide, including our Park Heights location, which just eclipsed 365 days without a deadly incident.

What signal does jeopardizing this program send to our dedicated outreach workers, many of whom are reentering citizens, about their value in improving our communities and about Maryland’s commitment to supporting our neighborhoods? What is our duty to support these credible messengers who come from the communities they serve, who are on the streets every day risking their lives to promote peace?

As an emergency physician who has treated patients dying from gunshot wounds, I will never forget the cries of mothers whose children could not be resuscitated in our ERs. Safe Streets has shown us that with the right combination of approaches, by treating our fellow citizens as solutions rather than as problems, we can prevent shootings and cure violence.

Success not coincidence

The governor’s decision also cuts coordination care services for the B’More for Healthy Babies program. Since 2009, this city-wide, public-private partnership has reduced infant mortality in our city by almost 30 percent, bringing it to the lowest point in Baltimore’s history. The disparity between black and white infant deaths was closed by almost 40 percent within three years. Moreover, the services of B’More for Healthy Babies reach 4,500 city residents, of which 2,250 are pregnant women and infants who already carry a disproportionate burden of disparities and poor health.

These successes are not coincidental. Over the past year-and-a-half I have spent serving Baltimore’s residents, I have seen the city make incredible progress as we tackle our most complex challenges, including trauma, violence, poverty, education, and unemployment, through innovative approaches. The facts are clear: these evidence-based interventions save lives every day.

We cannot move the needle on health across Maryland without supporting what is already working in Baltimore. Healing our city, which has seen its streets torn apart amid systems that marginalize and segregate, is an important building block for the state as whole. The success of these interventions has brought our city and state into the national spotlight, and we have the potential to become a model for the rest of the country.

We must recognize that we cannot look at the cost of programs alone; we must also look at the cost of doing nothing. What is the $1.5 million that had been requested for both of these programs, compared to the cost of shootings, homicide, trauma, incarceration, and the lifetime cost of unhealthy babies? What is our obligation as Marylanders to each other?

I urge the governor to reconsider this decision that will reverse the progress we have seen and perpetuate cycles of trauma and disparities in our communities. Together, we can create a more just and safe Maryland.

Dr. Leana Wen is the Baltimore’s health commissioner. She can be reached at health.commissioner@baltimorecity.gov. Twitter: @DrLeanaWen and @BMore_Healthy.


One comment

  1. nbixler@bixlerlaw.com

    Dr. Wen is right about this funding issue, and Gov. Hogan is wrong. The facts speak for themselves, and I for one applaud the progress Dr. Wen has made with her evidenced-based approach. Public service is about helping the many, not the well-connected few. We call this democracy.

    Regards,
    Neil J. Bixler, Esq.