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April 05, 2012 8:40 am

EDITORIAL: Keep a local focus for crucial prevention efforts

Written by Ilene Olson

They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

The West Park Hospital Prevention and Wellness office in Cody and other prevention-aimed organizations in Wyoming have taken that philosophy to heart. And, as prevention programs have increased, teen drinking and smoking in Wyoming have decreased.

According to the 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, about one-third of high school students in Wyoming drank alcohol at some point during the previous month — down from a little more than half of teens surveyed in the mid and late 1990s.

Similar declines were reported in youth binge drinking, smoking and cigarette use on school grounds, according to Marc Homer, Kids Count director for the Wyoming Children’s Action Alliance.

Prevention efforts also aimed increasingly at helping people quit smoking or using tobacco, Homer said.

But the news isn’t all good.

Despite that track record, prevention funding in Wyoming has been cut by 52 percent over the past two years due to the loss of a federal grant and a decrease in state funding.

To cope with that loss, officials with the Wyoming Prevention Division of the Community and Public Health Division decided to funnel all funding for prevention programs through one office statewide. They awarded that contract to the Community Resources Center of Johnson County in Buffalo.

The agency director said that was done through the state procurement process. But West Park prevention office staff members say the process was not followed correctly and provided no advance notice of the planned change, and no request for proposals was published. Therefore, West Park office staff and other deserving agencies say they were given no opportunity to submit a proposal, while they contend that a few organizations were hand-picked to do so.

That reportedly resulted in only one proposal being submitted, thereby awarding a contract without any competition or any proof that this is the best plan for the best statewide prevention program for the lowest cost.

While we understand the financial constraints the agency is dealing with and recognize the need for significant change, we question whether the method used to choose a statewide fiscal manger was fair or ethically correct.

It will be very difficult to manage community prevention programs effectively through one statewide office, making it even more challenging to continue the downward trend in the use of alcohol and tobacco by youth in Wyoming.

With the prevention ball now rolling in the right direction, this is a time to encourage cooperation and innovation. But that takes trust, and some feel that trust was broken.

We encourage state health officials to re-examine the process used to award the contract. If, as alleged, the process was flawed, it should be rescinded.

We also ask Wyoming’s elected officials, administrators and lawmakers to remember that preventing the use of tobacco, drugs and alcohol by youth today will result in decreased need for much more expensive treatment programs in the future.

Successful prevention efforts will improve the health and quality of lives of those people who are spared the chains of addiction.

1 Comment

  • Comment Link May 12, 2012 8:23 am posted by Margo Hutchinson

    This is so true and what is happening is just a sad state of affairs. Our local area will lose leadership, focus and the trust is just gone. I applaud the support of our community and our elected officials.
    I hope a change will happen but we have heard nothing, except the notice that maybe this was not handled correctly!

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