Grand Jury Report Criticizes Contra Costa Health Department for Not Addressing Financial Troubles
The Contra Costa County grand jury, a "civilian spending watchdog," has concluded that the county's health department has "not done enough" to address a "financial crisis" that "threaten[s] to force sharp cuts in county services" to the uninsured and could "lead to higher taxes," the Contra Costa Times reports. The 19-member grand jury released a report Friday stating that it "could find no significant effort" by the health department to restructure its organization, cut costs or seek to recover more money from federal and state governments and from patients "not entitled to free services." While recognizing that reduced reimbursements from the state and the federal governments played a role in the department's financial difficulties, the report said, "The department is relying almost totally upon federal and state governments for a solution to the financial crisis and may be discouraging efforts to look within itself for discretionary cost saving measures to eliminate annual budget overruns" (Cuff, Contra Costa Times, 6/2). The department could face a $15 million budget shortfall in fiscal year 2001-2002 (California Healthline, 2/14). The report said that while the department's budget had increased by 12.7% in the past two years, up to $524 million in the currnet fiscal year, spending increased by 126% over the same period. The panel recommended that an "independent audit" be conducted to "improve the department's finances."
The Times reports that county health officials and supervisors "disagreed sharply" with the report's conclusion that the health department has been apathetic about its financial problems. "It's hard to provide health care for the poor and indigent when higher levels of government are giving you less money to carry out the mandate," Supervisor Mark DeSaulnier said. DeSaulnier and board chair Gayle Uilkema said that the county has taken "several steps" to lower costs and boost revenues, including closing the county's home health agency. They added that the county hospital and clinics are providing care to an increasing number of uninsured patients or those covered by Medicare and Medi-Cal, and thus are not receiving reimbursement for the full cost of care. County health director William Walker also disputed the report's conclusion that the department had "multimillion dollar budget overruns" in the past two years, saying that "didn't happen." DeSaulnier and Uilkema did say, however, that they would "consider an outside audit" (Contra Costa Times, 6/2).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.