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Nurse program, DSHS suffer from budget issues

Services help Spokane, North Idaho children

Government budget shortfalls in Washington and Idaho have resulted in cuts to programs that protect vulnerable children.

In North Idaho, the Panhandle Health District’s Public Health Nurse Home Visiting Program will suspend its services. The district’s nurses visited homes where small children, including newborns, were at potential risk because of their parents’ lack of experience or family health and money problems. The nurses provided free education and support.

Cynthia Taggart, the district’s public information officer, said the program cost at least $25,000 out of the district’s $11.3 million budget. But grants that helped pay for it dried up, and state budget holdbacks mean “we have nothing extra – nothing,” she said.

Since 2001, nurses followed up on 800 referrals by visiting homes in five counties. The district’s nine nurses did not lose their jobs, because visiting nurse duties were only part of their jobs. Jeanne Bock, director of the district, was hopeful the program will be restored when the economy improves.

In Spokane, 27 temporary workers – social workers and support staff – were let go last week from the Department of Social and Health Services Children’s Administration Region 1 office. The workers had been hired, in part, to provide support for an effort to improve response time and investigation of child abuse and neglect cases.

DSHS must cut $181 million out of its budget by June 31, said John Wiley, DSHS media relations manager for Eastern Washington. Tuesday, Cheryl Stephani, DSHS Children’s Administration assistant secretary, announced she’s leaving her job. Under her leadership, 95 percent of child abuse and neglect complaints were addressed within 24 hours for children in imminent danger, according to a press release announcing her departure.

Wiley said DSHS leaders are hopeful that despite the cuts, the department will still meet improved response standards. But, he said, “We’re not sure what the impacts are going to be. Everyone has to pick up the slack.”

Rebecca Nappi can be reached at rebeccan@spokesman.com or (509) 459-5496.


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