VITAL community health prevention programs in vaping and smoking, healthy eating education, disability inclusion and family violence prevention face the chop in planned state government healthcare cuts.
Ballarat Community Health chief executive officer Sean Duffy likened the proposal to "treating people at the bottom of the cliff" once they were sick, with big investment in hospital upgrades, rather than investing in health promotion to keep people out of wards.
Independent community health prevention funding is likely to be slashed by as much as 15 per cent, with Ballarat Community Health bracing for potential job losses and, at the least, programs to halt.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has said the government was acting to reduce funding "double-ups" with public health units.
Mr Duffy said this was "misguided" as community health had been a strategy that had worked for half a century, and public health units - while important in a monitoring role - were relatively new and far from embedded in communities.
He was particularly concerned with what this could mean for smaller regional towns.
The government move has blindsided community health organisations which had this year aligned in a Community Health First campaign to call on the state government for a more holistic approach to health, including social factors.
Mr Duffy said this had involved regular meetings with the state's health department, including the Health Minister Mary-Anne Thomas' office, but there had been no mention of cuts.
Community Health chief executives had been notified by phone on Friday.
Mr Duffy said it was "perplexing" the government would make a short-decision response to seemingly budget for big building, particularly when there had been ample time to raise potential cuts earlier.
Proposed community health prevention cuts come ahead of May's state budget.
"We'll continue to open the door to government consultation for other ways to save health costs," Mr Duffy said. "We believe there are other areas to cost-cut in health."
Doctors Reform Society president Tim Woodruff declared it "shameful and also silly policy" that would increase stress on hospitals.
"The claim that this will not impact on frontline services is a political lie," Dr Woodruff said. "With about one in 10 admissions to Victorian public hospitals being preventable with good primary healthcare, why would any government reduce funding for it?"
Mr Andrews addressed the proposed cuts before media on Sunday amid promoting investment in priority primary care clinics to cover shortages in bulk-billing general practitioners and to ease pressure on hospital emergency departments.
Ballarat's urgent care clinic, led by UFS, opened in Windermere Street in October.
IN OTHER NEWS
Ms Thomas said community health had already received more than $150 million in budget funding and local public health units had been allocated $40 million.
Victorian Healthcare Association acting chief executive Juan Paolo Legaspi said while the budget could include billions of dollars to build new hospitals, that should not come at the cost of community health programs.
"This is not the right time to cut funding to programs that help people stay well and out of our stretched hospital system," he said.
Mr Duffy has also previously pointed to increasing demand for support on Ballarat Community Health as a multitude of health and social factors worsen amid the rising cost of living.
Victoria's community health sector has not received any substantial funding increase in more than a decade.
Have you tried The Courier's app? It can be downloaded here.