Spokane County’s Public Health Clinic is a candidate for closure next year, as fewer patients rely on the services it provides and budget cuts loom.
The proposed closure is yet another example of the changing mission of public health in Spokane County, said Health Officer Dr. Joel McCullough. Rather than the hands-on, high-profile help public health workers historically have provided to the public, the Spokane Regional Health District is morphing into an agency focused more on disease prevention and health risk management and policy, McCullough said.
The health district is proposing a $21.2 million budget for next year – down 1.3 percent from this year’s $21.4 million.
The clinic is a casualty of change. Patient numbers have plummeted as people increasingly get their immunizations at supermarkets. Low-income clinics receive better reimbursements for disease screenings and other services that the public health clinic provides because they are supervised by doctors, while the public health clinic is staffed by nurses.
Other tentative health district cuts include laboratory services and a division of its finance and records unit.
Layoffs are possible, McCullough said, as perhaps 10 or more positions are cut or changed into other kinds of services.
The district’s budget proposal for 2013 includes a $206,687 contribution to reserves. That cushion became necessary, McCullough said, after the Board of Health last year agreed to a one-time budget deficit of $304,775. The district borrowed from its reserves to help fund the transition out of several services, including its revered cleft palate program.
The proposed budget for next year will be considered by the board at its Oct. 25 meeting.
“These are difficult decisions,” McCullough said, “but the world has changed and so must Public Health.”