Cutting health programs for infants and children proved too daunting Thursday as the Spokane Regional Health District board decided to postpone passage of its 2012 budget.
The move came after dozens of residents testified that cutting district programs that help children with hearing loss, disabilities and cleft lips and palates would endanger lives and leave families in desperation.
“Without these programs at the health district, I’m not sure what we would have done,” said Dr. Luisita Francis, a pediatrician who has a 3-year-old daughter who lost her hearing.
Francis said even someone like her, with education, financial means and medical training, was completely overwhelmed by the possibility of finding the right regimen of help and specialists for her daughter.
“We are one of the largest counties in Washington with a great program, and here we are on the verge of putting ourselves back decades,” she said.
After some two hours of emotional testimony, some board members were moved to tears. The board is comprised of local elected officials. They need to pass a balanced budget, and revenue and spending predictions require more than $2 million in cuts to an agency with a $23 million budget.
County Commissioner Mark Richard at one point had to pause while offering comments. He said he would be an advocate of attempting to salvage the programs that help children with special health care needs – especially a program that helps coordinate and cares for children born with cleft lips and palates.
As the board wrestles with how to save the program, Shriner’s Hospital for Children in Spokane delivered a letter to board members outlining its interest in offering cleft lip and palate surgeries and follow-up care.
Despite political clamoring for less government, spending cuts and lower taxes, the painful consequences of gutting government programs are being felt.
Health board member Michael Fisk recalled this quote: “The measure of any society is how they protect the innocent.”
He successfully urged the board to take another look at its budget priorities. The proposed cuts also included the district’s water quality lab.
The board plans to hold a special meeting in November.