Contra Costa Supervisors Approve Budget Containing Funding Cuts for Health Programs
As expected, the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously passed a $1.1 billion spending plan for fiscal year 2004-2005 that calls for "deep cuts" to the county Health Services Department to help address a $53.5 million budget deficit, the Contra Costa Times reports. In total, the supervisors cut $34.2 million from local social services programs, largely by eliminating 504 jobs, 141 of which will be layoffs. The health department faces funding cuts totaling $18.8 million and the elimination of 220 positions, 130 of which will be layoffs. Together, more than 80 health services will be cut. The county's psychiatric emergency services office will lose 25 clinicians and five staff members, while the psychiatric ward at the Contra Costa Regional Medical Center will lose about 15 workers (Russell, Contra Costa Times, 6/30). The budget also calls for the closure of one operating room at the hospital. The original proposal had called for the closure of two ORs, but supervisors delayed the closure of the second room (Vega et al., San Francisco Chronicle, 6/30). Hospital management and labor leaders will have six weeks to find a way to keep the second OR open. The budget also reduces testing for sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS, and cuts programs for communicable diseases and tuberculosis. In addition, supervisors also eliminated funding for 21 beds at alcohol and other drug detoxification centers and eliminated funding for 16 recovery beds (Russell, Contra Costa Times, 6/30). Unless specified, most of the budget cuts are set to go into effect this week, the Times reports (Chang, Contra Costa Times, 6/30).
As part of their approval of the budget, supervisors agreed to review efforts to maintain services at the George Miller Centers in Richmond and Concord, which annually serve about 450 people with developmental disabilities (Chang, Contra Costa Times, 6/30). Last month, the board gave 60 days' notice to the Department of Developmental Services' regional centers program that the county would not renew its contract to provide services to people with developmental disabilities and their families. The Miller centers, which provide the services, receive about 66% of their funding through the state's regional centers program and the remainder from the county (California Healthline, 6/29). On Tuesday, supervisors postponed closure of the centers until Dec. 1 to give county officials, patient advocates and not-for-profit agencies time to develop plans to maintain services at the centers. Health department Director William Walker said supervisors set the December deadline to encourage quick action, the Times reports. He added, "If there are reasonable issues, we'll come back to the table." However, Gina Jennings, co-chair of the task force seeking to maintain services at the centers, said, "In order to do things correctly, a five-month transition plan is inappropriate, unrealistic and irresponsible" (Chang, Contra Costa Times, 6/30).
Prior to the vote, about 50 protesters marched through downtown Martinez to urge supervisors to support "care not cuts." Rollie Katz, an official for Public Employees Union Local 1, said that the cuts fall disproportionately on county health services and supervisors could have distributed funding cuts more evenly across county departments, according to the Times. Supervisor Mark DeSaulnier said, "We have some awful, awful (decisions) to make, but we keep reminding you that this isn't going away." County Administrator John Sweeten said, "It's not a pretty picture," noting that the county could have to cut an additional $9.3 million to $20 million from its general fund budget later this summer to account for expected state funding cuts to be enacted when the state budget is passed. In approving the budget, the supervisors voted unanimously to try to avoid future budget problems by directing staff members to examine the budget preparation process. Possible solutions include starting the process earlier, working with five-year economic projections and establishing a reserve fund (Russell, Contra Costa Times, 6/30).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.