Funding cuts to an organization serving vulnerable children have caused backlash for county health officials as they restructure how to distribute stagnant funding at a time when needs are growing.
The $195,000 pulled from the Spokane Guilds’ School and Neuromuscular Center helped pay for programs tailored for disabled and developmentally delayed children.
The Spokane Regional Health District said its funding decision is part of an effort to streamline the Early Support for Infants and Toddlers program, reduce dependency on local tax dollars and provide more equitable funding to other providers in the program.
But Guilds’ School Executive Director Dick Boysen said the cuts will directly affect services to children. He sent a call-to-action letter to Guilds’ School supporters that left county officials scrambling to control the damage.
The state Department of Early Learning recently selected the health district to hold the $579,890 contract for the 2012-13 fiscal year. The money is earmarked for the program’s family resource coordinators.
The Guilds’ School used $195,000 of the money to pay part of the cost of hiring its own coordinators rather than using providers employed by the health district. Other organizations either use health district employees or use other revenue, usually money they receive from school districts, to pay for their own coordinators.
In 2012, each health district family resource coordinator served an average of 56 families. The ideal caseload is 45. In contrast, the Guilds’ School coordinators had caseloads of 26 families per coordinator.
“Equitably funding everybody that’s trying to provide these services … that makes total sense,” said Kim Papich, spokeswoman for the Spokane Regional Health District.
As need for the program has grown, funding remains static. The health district has responded by using more of its local tax dollars toward coordinators who don’t work for the Guilds’ School, said Elaine Conley, director of the health district’s Community and Family Service programs.
“We just simply cannot afford to continue to do that,” Conley said.
The health district wants the changes in funding to more accurately align money with caseloads to improve care coordination, while reducing that local dollar need by $30,000, Papich said.
“This isn’t a decision about money,” Papich said. “This is a decision about the kids. All kids, not just Guilds’ kids.”
Boysen disagrees with the health district’s rationale. He said Guilds’ School employees are already familiar with policies, staff and the children served. Boysen said it makes more sense for the provider that directly serves the children, who struggle with complex medical and cognitive issues, to employ its own family resource coordinators.
“I don’t know what employer thinks it would be a good idea to accept employees from another organization to work at their own organization,” he said. “We don’t get it. It just doesn’t make any sense. We already have trained, qualified people that know the program.”
Conley said that if the Guilds’ School wants to find other funding to continue to employ their own coordinators, “we would be delighted with that decision.”
Two of the other main providers – Stepping Stones Pediatric Therapy and Center for Pediatric Therapy – use health district coordinators, while Children FIRST pays for coordinators using other funding and Youthful Horizons uses one Department of Early Learning-funded coordinator through the health district and one using alternate funding.
In all, the changes to its relationship with the Spokane Regional Health District will require the Guilds’ School to raise an additional $252,915. Boysen said the school already raises $1 million privately each year and going beyond that will be difficult.
“At some point our good donors can only stand so much pressure,” he said.
The two organizations are set to discuss the issue at a meeting with the executive committee of the health board Thursday.
The dispute has spilled over to the Spokane City Council and Mayor David Condon’s office, which also have been the targets of criticism from Guilds’ supporters.
“I just think that the whole thing is ill-conceived,” Boysen said. “If they do this to the Guilds’ School, that is clear evidence that kids and families aren’t even a consideration.”