Washington state's Health Care Authority announced today it will suspend about $5.3 million in grant money to community health clinics beginning Jan. 1.
In Walla Walla, that decision impacts Family Medical and Dental Center.
The grants -- part of a state program that's supported community health services since 1985 -- will be suspended until the end of the fiscal year June 30.
Those funds could be amended through a supplemental budget, said Jim Stevenson, spokesman for the HCA.
"That will be up to the state Legislature to decide how those funds will be disposed of, he said, noting that could mean the dollars get reabsorbed into the state budget and used for other purposes.
The move "underscores how serious the state's budget issue really is," Stevenson added.
The grants are normally distributed to the 36 organizations that make up Community Health Services. Together, those organizations sponsor 214 clinic sites around the state. The grant fund primary medical and dental care and migrant services and are awarded to the clinics -- which range from urban to tribal to rural settings -- based on the number of sliding-fee patients served.
Those patients represent about a third of the 900,000 Washington residents who visit the clinics in the course of a year, according to the state.
The community clinics date back to 1965, established to help the nation's most vulnerable populations, Stevenson said. The clinic were notified of the cuts before today.
Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic, which operates Family Medical and Dental Clinic here, stands to lose $1,586,223. That's broken into three service categories: dental, $563,847; medical, $402,838; migrant, $619,538.
While administrators at Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic are not sure of the exact impact on each of its 16 facilities, the state's decision will ultimately be most painful to those least able to bear more hardship, said Glenn Cassidy, public relations director.
"The grants were used to make up for the uncompensated care that was paid for neither by the patient or Medicaid or private health insurance," he said. "What it means, across the system, we will be forced to look at cutting staff positions and that means we cannot continue to provide as much care as we have been doing."
The organization is already dipping into reserves to make up for shortages in reimbursements, Cassidy pointed out.
In Walla Walla, a "fair number" of who is served come from Oregon, as well. They will be equally affected by slashed services.
Since July, Family Medical and Dental has seen 7,000 dental patients this year; 4,000 had no insurance. Through October, providers saw 21,000 medical patients. Of those, 8,000 were considered uncompensated care, Cassidy said.
Carlos Oliveres, executive director of the health-care agency, is concerned with Gov. Chris Gregoire's approach to the budget shortfall, he said. "She is willing to sacrifice health care for the most vulnerable population, yet she is not willing to talk about making cuts to state unions and she continues to give a five percent increase a year in salaries and is not willing to reopen negotiations."
Administrators will delay making cuts to care as long as possible, Cassidy said today. "We'll hold off until late winter or early spring before we make concrete decisions."
Sheila Hagar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8322. Check out her blog at blogs.ublabs.org/fromthestorageroom.