A move by the Board of Supervisors June 4 to close down its reproductive health clinic on Jan. 1 has got a lot of people up in arms. County staff is urging the board to stand by its decision this Tuesday to close the clinic as planned.
The opponents have been very vocal. This organized group of local folks, made up mostly of women, says the closure will prevent uninsured or undocumented women from receiving necessary family planning and female health services — including cancer screenings — and could also exacerbate the large number of teen pregnancies in Kings County.
However, the county cites cost — $1.5 million a year in operational expenses — as one of the driving forces behind its decision, as well as the fact that there are 18 private clinics that currently offer similar services throughout the county.
That’s not going to work, say opponents. Women and teens who currently receive these free family planning services at the county clinic won’t feel as comfortable going into a more formal setting, and therefore might forgo the much-needed care.
Although the county receives federal and other funds to partially offset the costs of the clinic, it must also dip into its health realignment fund account to make up the difference.
County staff says that account will drop to zero if the clinic were to remain open until next September.
After that, it would have to be funded with discretionary general fund money, the bulk of which is currently being held for use in public safety, the Sheriff’s Office, the District Attorney’s Office and probation services.
Using some of that money to fund the reproductive health clinic would be a major policy shift in a county where public safety has always been paramount.
The health realignment funds have been slipping for years. The account had $1.92 million as of June 30, down from $3.36 million a year earlier. And that total was down more than $7 million from the balance six years earlier.
While the clinic taps into that account to remain operational, so do 17 other health department budgets, yet the fund’s imminent demise wasn’t fully analyzed until last summer, and cutting the clinic doesn’t fully address the problem, either.
It’s fair to ask why this issue wasn’t addressed with more vigor earlier, and it’s also fair to ask how the services the clinic provides stack up with the health department’s other offerings.
In its recommendation to the board, the staff is also saying the county needs to “more closely align [its] services with those that are required of local health departments by statute and regulation.”
A better question to ask: What are Kings County’s true health care priorities, and how are they best funded?
This issue has received unprecedented community participation at a weekday morning meeting that usually draws limited public comment.
Though the decisions the board is facing are tough and there are no easy answers, we see the increased involvement of the public as a welcome sign.
While addressing the issue with a lengthy report and multiple backup documents, the staff is remarkably mum when it comes to the option to continue the dialogue by creating an advisory committee to study the issue.
And while the board may need to stand its ground in the short term to formally adopt a budget, we agree with those who feel more discussion is needed.
We hope the board opts to form a committee to bring some fresh sets of eyes beyond county staff to determine the best way to use the county’s scarce health care resources.