SAN FRANCISCO: Health Department Faces $19M Deficit
Health departments around California are facing between $70 million and $100 million in deficits, according to the California Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems. The AP/Contra Costa Times reports that the San Francisco Health Department faces a $19 million deficit next year, San Joaquin County a $10 million debt, Contra Costa County a $8.2 million shortfall and San Mateo County has a $5 million deficit. Steve Kawa, San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown's (D) deputy chief of staff, said, "The health department budget will be the story of the budget." The budget shortfalls come during an economic boom, which could have contributed to the problem. San Francisco's housing crunch and cheap heroin have driven some residents to the streets, while welfare reforms have pushed poor San Franciscans off public health insurance and into low-paying jobs with no benefits. Officials also blame the federal government for cutting billions of dollars out of health programs, including Medicare and Medicaid. Taylor Emerson, deputy director of Brown's budget office, said, "The federal budget is balanced on the backs of counties that have public hospitals and that's causing problems everywhere." At least one plan to alleviate some of the burden has received criticism. Shannon Coughlin of the Emergency Coalition to Save Public Health blasted San Francisco Health Director Mitchell Katz's plan to scale back inpatient psychiatric care and privatize pharmacy services. Coughlin said the department "shouldn't have to choose between creating needed out-of-hospital alternatives and keeping beds in hospitals," adding, "In a city with so much wealth, we need to find ways of funding public health" (4/23).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.