ALAMEDA COUNTY: Despite More Allocations, Concern Grows Over Care For Poor
Public health advocates voiced concern yesterday at an Alameda County budget hearing that the local "health care safety net" is wearing thin. Although "[f]or the first time in six years, no cuts to county health services are proposed" for FY '98-99, many are concerned that previous years' cuts have put too great a strain on "overcrowded county-funded health facilities." The Contra Costa Times reports that speakers at the meeting called the need for funds "particularly important as welfare reform pulls more people off Medi-Cal and into jobs that don't always provide health insurance."
Also brought up was the pending turnover of the county medical center, comprised of three hospitals and five clinics, to a public-private entity. Speakers told county supervisors that "equipment upgrades and expanded clinic hours are needed to attract enough paying patients to keep the doors open for the uninsured." They said that next year's $4 million appropriation for "upgrades" to the county system will not be enough to offset the more than $13 million in needed improvements deferred over the last three years. Dr. Virgil Williams of Highland hospital said, "We're unable to be competitive; we're unable to run with the ball. ... We need more equipment, and better equipment." County supervisor Wilma Chan "agreed improvements are needed" but noted that Highland Hospital maintains a "very good standard of care" and "cited private fundraising efforts for equipment."
Some speakers at the meeting "urged the county to dip into a $35 million delinquent property tax fund to help invest in health care." Supervisors responded, however, that these funds are needed for "other fiscal emergencies" and noted the reserve was instrumental in helping the county "get a good bond rating to finance a medical center addition." The FY '98-99 health care budget is $548.8 million. Health Care Services Agency Director Dave Kears said that $211 million of that amount is earmarked for the medical center, up from $207.5 million last year (Brewer, 6/23).