DSHS Seeks More Funding for Lab, Fighting Maternal Deaths
By Sean Price


The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) is asking state lawmakers for new or “exceptional” funding to help the agency tackle several important health concerns facing the state, according to Commissioner John Hellerstedt, MD.

One of the agency’s biggest priorities will be securing a steady source of funds for the state’s public health laboratory.

The DSHS lab is frequently called on to do expensive testing to protect public health, Dr. Hellerstedt says. In the past, the agency was able to offset budget shortfalls in lab funding by transferring funds from other parts of the department’s budget. But recent agency restructuring has made that solution unworkable without sacrificing other programs, especially since the lab’s duties grow each year.

“For instance, one of the things that we’re concerned about is that every year there are more and more things being added to screen newborns for inheritable metabolic diseases,” Dr. Hellerstedt said during a recent Texas Medical Association Distinguished Speaker Series event that featured the four most recent DSHS leaders.

“We’re going to have to have a reliable source of funding that will allow us to add those new services,” he said.

Agency officials also would like more funding to help combat maternal morbidity and mortality, one of TMA’s legislative priorities this year, too.

DSHS would like to improve the use of “bundles” — a collection of protocols and guidelines — designed by the Alliance for Innovation in Maternal Health (AIM). These bundles help physicians and health care providers prevent maternal health problems before, during, and after pregnancy.

Other requests include:

  • Increasing secure access to Texas Vital Records: DSHS recently overhauled how death certificates are handled, but residents still wait a long time to get their identification documents, and physicians need more immediate access to technical assistance to register deaths.
  • Retaining appropriate technical staff: DSHS frequently hires technical staff who use the experience they gain at DSHS to obtain better-paying jobs in the private sector. “Maybe if we improve the ways in which we compensate our folks, they’ll stick around a little longer,” Dr. Hellerstedt said.
  • Bolstering the response to all types of infectious disease outbreaks: The electronic system used to enter and track disease in Texas periodically breaks down, frustrating local health departments and slowing public health’s ability to address developing outbreaks. 
  • Improving the detection and control of tuberculosis: Tuberculosis rates are steady in Texas, Dr. Hellerstedt says. “But the sad part is we could be driving down the amount of tuberculosis we have in the state, and we frankly just don’t have resources to follow up on every active case of tuberculosis disease,” he said.
  • Increasing the accessibility of public health data: DSHS will examine what data academics and local health departments request most often for fighting disease. Also, the department needs to be able to connect computer systems that were acquired over time and that are currently incompatible for sharing data.
  • Preserving department vehicles used in disaster response: Specialty vehicles like a mobile command center and mobile autopsy vehicle are used to respond to disasters. They need to be housed in protective facilities that allow quick deployment to disasters and that will ensure the vehicles last as long as they can.

Last Updated On

January 22, 2019

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Sean Price


(512) 370-1392

Sean Price is a reporter for Texas Medicine and Texas Medicine Today. He grew up in Fort Worth and graduated from the University of Texas at Austin. He's worked as an award-winning writer and editor for a variety of national magazine, book, and website publishers in New York and Washington. He's also helped produce Texas-based marketing campaigns designed to promote public health. Sean lives in Austin and enjoys hiking, photography, and spending time with his wife and two sons.

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