Alameda County Budget Proposal Includes Funding Cuts for Indigent, Mental Health Care
Alameda County Administrator Susan Muranishi on Thursday proposed a fiscal year 2004-2005 budget to the County Board of Supervisors that could eliminate community clinic and mental health services for thousands of uninsured county residents, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (DeFao, San Francisco Chronicle, 6/4). Muranishi said that over the past year the county has eliminated more than $150 million from the budget and about 500 positions. According to the Contra Costa Times, Alameda County hopes to address an estimated $98.4 million budget deficit in part by "slash[ing] health and welfare services to the county's poorest residents" (Ashley, Contra Costa Times, 6/4). The proposed budget would cut $22 million in health spending, half of which would be covered by a one-time savings in funds left over from last year's budget. The reductions include state funding cuts to community organizations that provide health care for low-income county residents, possibly leading to the loss of services among as many as 3,000 county residents. Mental health services for another 2,000 county residents could be reduced, because the number of dedicated mental health beds would be decreased, the Chronicle reports. In addition, the proposal calls for a reduction in funding for HIV prevention services (San Francisco Chronicle, 6/4).
Another provision of the proposed budget effectively would eliminate health benefits for about 1,660 home health care workers by increasing the work eligibility requirement from 35 hours per month to 75 hours per month. The proposed change would save the county $2.5 million per year but would cause the loss of health coverage for about half of county home health care workers (Contra Costa Times, 6/4). The proposed home health care cuts are part of a plan to cut $12.1 million from public assistance programs. About 100 workers at community organizations could be laid off because of the reductions. Overall, 134 positions would be eliminated in the county, although many are already vacant.
"It's an extremely lean budget with some difficult program and service reductions that are really going to affect our safety net programs," Muranishi said. Patricia Barrera, policy director of the Alameda Health Consortium, which consists of eight community-based health centers, said, "It's the patients and the health of the community that is going to be impacted." She added, "We are the ultimate safety net. If we can't provide the services, no one else is going to." The county board of supervisors will hold public hearings on the issue throughout June and plans to adopt a budget June 28 (San Francisco Chronicle, 6/4).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.