December 1, 2011 in City

Clinic staff, patients rally against cuts to health services

By The Spokesman-Review
Many affected

In the last year, the CHAS clinics have treated 40,000 different people – or about a tenth of Spokane County’s population. The clinic also filled about 240,000 prescriptions for drugs that could be threatened by Medicaid cuts.

Medical clinics for the poor are fighting proposed government funding cuts that they say will undo basic health care services and send thousands more people to emergency rooms.

“We’re down to the bones,” said Peg Hopkins, chief executive of Community Health Association of Spokane. “We can’t do any more cuts without cutting services.”

CHAS staff and patients gathered early Wednesday at the downtown Denny Murphy clinic to rally support. A large net strung outside the clinic held 670 balls, each one signed by a patient, to represent the number of people treated each day.

Federal and state spending cutbacks have affected most government services during the past several years. And more are looming.

CHAS has implemented hiring and wage freezes at its clinics, Hopkins said. It’s a tricky balance because community clinics have to keep pace with pay and perks offered by the region’s other large clinics.

Funding the $21 million CHAS budget is already dicey: 40 percent of the CHAS patients are uninsured and 40 percent have Medicaid. Another 10 percent are elderly with Medicare coverage, and the last 10 percent are a mix of patients with private insurance or coverage through other programs. When Gov. Chris Gregoire recalled the Legislature for a special session to trim $1.4 billion from the state’s $32.2 billion budget for 2011-’13 – including proposed cuts of $25 million to community clinics across the state – it triggered panic.

Hopkins said dental service would have to be eliminated if the cuts are adopted. Such a move would send CHAS patients with abscessed teeth and other dental emergencies to hospitals or other clinics willing to accept them. Other services would have to be scaled back to keep the not-for-profit CHAS solvent, she said.

At the rally Wednesday, onlooker Gloria Bost said she uses CHAS and worries about the steady erosion of services to the growing number of poor people.

“I hope they make it,” she said.

Ryan Beaudoin, chairman of the CHAS board of directors, said the clinics would do everything possible to keep its safety net services relevant. But service cutbacks will be felt by everyone, he said.

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