WALLA WALLA - The lassos are being put away, at least for this upcoming flu season.
For the past six years, the Walla Walla County Public Health Department has facilitated mass flu- and pneumonia-vaccination clinics - "Flu Shot Roundup" - at the Walla Walla County Fairgrounds.
In his first flu season as administrator of the department, Harvey Crowder began a massive effort to train local health-care partners for dealing with any future need for a communitywide emergency response, such as a pandemic. Inoculating people against a seasonal enemy seemed like the perfect way to achieve that training, Crowder said at the time.
By learning how to work together in the most efficient way possible, covering every base in an emergency, would benefit professionals and residents alike.
Thus the three-day clinic at Walla Walla County Fairgrounds was birthed. Many in Walla Walla and beyond were quickly vaccinated for a low cost each clinic day, while public health workers and volunteers honed their emergency skills.
Although highly successful, those clinics have never been self-supporting, Crowder said Friday.
"Costs to plan and operate the clinic have always exceeded the income generated by charging for the immunizations," Crowder said. "The difference has been made up by public health emergency preparedness grant funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention."
He's cut costs as close to the bone as possible, but as the grant money has dwindled, even that was not enough, the administrator explained. It mirrors what's happening elsewhere in the health department - less federal and state money is going to mean layoffs in addition to the newly established furlough days.
The department's water lab stands to be closed by summer's end.
Public health departments everywhere are seeing similar budget pictures, Crowder said.
"We've been luckier than most health departments," he said. "We've enjoyed good support from (Walla Walla) county commissioners. Other health departments are about 30 percent smaller than they were in 2008; we're at 10 to 15 percent smaller."
Crowder said he has great concerns that the progress made since 2005 in emergency preparedness will lose some ground without the structure of the mass-vaccination clinics. "But the health-care community is so collaborative here, we'll figure out something else. But we won't be as facile at it as we have been with the mass clinics."
Walla Walla residents will be able to get vaccinated against flu and pneumonia at various pharmacies and through primary-care providers. Children will be vaccinated through pediatric or family-practice clinics, he said.
"I think the community will be served, but it won't be quite as convenient," he said.
For more information, call Walla Walla County Public Health Department at 524-2650.