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, the chief executive of Community Health Association of Spokane – commonly called CHAS. “We can’t do any more cuts without cutting services.”
So early Wednesday morning CHAS staff and patients gathered at the downtown Denny Murphy clinic to rally support. A large net strung outside the clinic held 670 balls about the size of a softball, each one signed by a patient to represent the number of people treated each day.
Federal and state funding cutbacks have reached across most every government service line during the past several years. And more are looming.
CHAS has already implemented hiring and wage freezes at its clinics, Hopkins said. It’s a tricky balance because even community clinics have to keep pace with rising 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 last 10 percent are a mix of patients with private insurance or coverage through other programs.
So 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 2011-2013 - including cuts of $25 million to community clinics across the state - it triggered panic.
Hopkins said dental service would have to be cut. Such a move would send CHAS patients with abscessed teeth and other dental emergencies to hospitals or other clinics willing to accept them.
The clinics would continue doing everything they can for patients, but that some services would simply have to be scaled back so keep the not-for-profit CHAS solvent.
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. Yet service cutbacks will be felt by everyone, he said.
In the last year, the CHAS clinics have treated 40,000 different people – about one-in-10 people in Spokane County. The clinic also filled about 240,000 prescriptions for drugs that could be threatened by Medicaid cuts.