Local news

Health district weighs cuts

Agency has 8.7 percent leaner budget

The Spokane Regional Health District proposed cutting some programs for children with special needs and eliminating its water testing lab as it tries to make do with $2.1 million less next year.

Health Officer Joel McCullough is asking the district’s Board of Health to approve a $21.4 million budget for 2012, an 8.7 percent decrease from this year.

The cuts, which are the result of a decrease in state and federal funding, will force a 7.6 percent reduction in the health district’s workforce, or about 10 positions.

“The public health system is under considerable strain,” McCullough said. “We have worked hard to minimize the impact of our shrinking revenues on employees and the services we provide to the community.”

In order to preserve funding for programs mandated by law and programs critical to preventing disease and injury, the district is proposing its largest cut to the Children with Special Health Care Needs program.

“Some of our most vulnerable citizens will not be served because of the loss of this program,” McCullough said.

State and federal grants only cover about half of the $561,000 cost of the program, which coordinates health care for children with chronic health, developmental or behavioral problems. About 12,000 to 15,000 children qualify for this program in Spokane, the district said.

Among services and positions being eliminated are the Cleft Lip and Palate/Maxillofacial program, some public health nurse home visits and the district’s WorkFirst initiative, which provides nursing evaluations for the children of families on welfare.

The district’s water laboratory tests water systems and private wells for contamination. McCullough said private labs in the area are capable of doing this type of testing, though the district also provided “additional expertise.”

The cuts received preliminary approval from the Board of Health’s budget and finance committee on Thursday. The full board will consider the budget at its regular meeting on Oct. 27.



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