Top Health Officials Warn of Funding Cut

By Rachel Pritchett


As the economy worsens, Kitsap’s top health officials are fighting hard to prevent threatened funding cuts they say could affect many locally.

As word spread that a new state revenue forecast may peg the deficit much higher, at $8 billion, Kitsap Mental Health Services’ executive director warned that cuts in the governor’s proposed 2009-2001 budget or from other sources that are too deep will throw his agency into a “treat-and-street” mode.

Staffers will be limited to treating only the worst-off clients, then turning them loose, said Joe Roszak.

“If the cuts are severe and significant enough, we could reach a tipping point where we provide only crisis-stabilization services,” he said. 

His biggest fear is loss of outpatient services, he said Wednesday after presenting his concerns at a League of Women Voters meeting.

The county’s only public mental-health agency will be OK through June 30, he said. The Peninsula Regional Support Network, which funnels state funds to his agency, will pull from its reserves to continue KMHS current funding, should state cuts between now and then take place, he said.

Dr. Scott Lindquist, director of the Kitsap County Health District, fears the loss of public-health nurses and environmental health specialists in agencies such as his.

“These two positions are the core of public health,” he said at the League of Women Voters meeting.

Budget cuts for agencies like his so far for 2009 have come to a total of $33 million statewide and a loss of 250 positions. Many health districts have had to cuts services in health visits to high-risk families, chronic disease prevention, disease investigation, oral health and environmental public health, according to the Washington State Association of Local Public Health Officials. 

Locally, reduced funding could possibly prompt the health district to move away from immunization and family-planning services, Lindquist said.

The public-health funding slip began with the passage of I- 695, the $30 license tab initiative, in 1999 and never fully recovered. 

Add a recession and the result is “a perfect storm,” Lindquist said.

Meanwhile on Wednesday, Tom Kruse, vice president of strategy and business development at Harrison Medical Center, said the governor’s proposed budget would result in a $4.3 million loss for Harrison, which, like the other entities, is under the funding gun. 

The down economy means Harrison will have to make up a $9 million to $12 million deficit in pension funding, he said during a Kitsap Sun editorial-board meeting.  

Barbara Malich, chief executive officer for Peninsula Community Health Services, said funds availability forced six positions to be cut within her agency, and another 18 could be cut later this year if federal stimulus money doesn’t make its way locally. 

Peninsula Community Health Services provided low-cost health care to 17,465 patients last year. Malich also spoke to the Kitsap Sun editorial board.

Harrison’s Kruse echoed Malich’s concern about the $787 billion economic-stimulus bill just signed by the president.

Kruse, too, hopes money earmarked in the bill for health care doesn’t get siphoned off somewhere else.

“I don’t think we’re advocating for a change,” he said.

Some of the health officials are anxious to see Kitsap commissioners put into effect what’s known as Hargrove initiative, which allows counties to pass a tenth-of-a-percent increase in the sales tax to supplement some sorts of  mental health and substance-abuse services. The Hargrove Bill has passed the Legislature in 2005, but takes either commissioners’ decision or a public vote to implement locally.

Roszak, from Kitsap Mental Health Services, said voters are in no mood to pass a tax increase, but without sufficient local funding, the cost comes much dearer.

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