ACOEM: NIOSH Budget Cuts Could Threaten Worker Health and Safety

In recent letters to leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate, the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) expressed strong concerns about the effect of proposed funding cuts to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) – which ACOEM says will devastate the nation’s supply of new physicians trained to treat injured and ill workers.

Proposed funding cuts in President Obama’s 2012 budget request would eliminate funding for 17 Education and Research Centers (ERC) sponsored by NIOSH. According to ACOEM, these centers produce the vast majority of new occupational medicine physicians in the United States – by some estimates as many as three-quarters of new graduates.

NIOSH is the only federal agency responsible for funding training programs for occupational physicians and allied occupational health providers and for conducting research and making recommendations for the prevention of work-related illness and injury.

In the letters, ACOEM President Natalie P. Hartenbaum, M.D., MPH, FACOEM, expressed “extreme concern” about the impact of the proposed cuts on the quality of care for the nation’s workforce.

“There is broad agreement that occupational medicine residency programs have been gravely underfunded for a long period of time, resulting in a shortage of residency trained occupational medicine physicians,” she said. “In 2000, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) noted that occupational medicine needs more specialists with formal training. The budget proposal makes matters worse, increasing the funding gap, and increasing the shortage of physicians.”

“As the nation’s workplaces become more complex, occupational medicine physicians play an increasingly visible role in preventing diseases and promoting wellness among workers,” she said.

ACOEM disputed claims from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) that “the intended goals” of the ERC program have been met, contending that funding for training of occupational medicine physicians is an ongoing need – not an “endpoint.”

“If the ERCs are terminated, many, perhaps most, occupational medicine residency programs will close for lack of funding,” Hartenbaum said.

ACOEM called the suggestion of cutting the ERC program a “short-sighted” idea that would “threaten the health, safety and productivity of workers – a critical part of our economy that depends on occupational medicine and allied occupational health providers.”

Copies of the letter were sent Feb. 17 to leaders of the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations and to its Committee on HELP; and to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations and to its Committee on Education and the Workforce. To read the letters in their entirety, visit http://www.acoem.org/comments.aspx?id=7433.

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