Local public health officials voted Wednesday to cut 8.7 percent from the Spokane Regional Health District’s budget for next year.
The move, announced last month, included several layoffs and changes to programs that help babies and children receive care for birth defects and other special needs.
Board of Health members – elected officials and several citizen appointees – called the budget an unfortunate but necessary measure.
Board member Steve Corker, a Spokane city councilman, said voters have been sending a clear message against raising new revenues.
“So now come the cuts,” he said, expressing disappointment in the steady erosion of public health funding and the accompanying loss of services.
Spokane Mayor Mary Verner, who also sits on the health district board, likened the budget process to a Hobson’s choice – the choice between what’s offered and nothing at all.
“A persistent anti-government, anti-tax push has led us to the point where government has to cut services,” she said.
Health district funding and staff have been slipping for years. Administrators had trimmed programs in an attempt to keep the district’s myriad services intact.
This year is different, said health district administrator Torney Smith.
Deep budget cuts require the elimination of programs.
The district was able to abandon its water testing lab as private businesses had already begun offering similar services.
Tougher decisions surrounded the programs for children.
Services that helped coordinate specialist care for children with hearing loss, for example, will be reduced and absorbed by health staff.
And money the district spent to support the Maxillofacial Team, which coordinates surgeries, therapy and home visits for babies with cleft lip and palate, will disappear Dec. 31.
Health board members instructed Health Officer Dr. Joel McCullough to work with other community health care providers in hopes of transitioning the program to another agency.
McCullough has already met with the Spokane County Medical Society and Rockwood Health System’s Deaconess Hospital.
Next week he is scheduled to meet with officials of Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center.
Verner expressed confidence that the coordination of cleft lip and palate services can be successfully moved to another agency.
Shriners Hospital for Children also intends to start a program to treat children with cleft lip and palate, although its program is still in the planning phase.