SAN FRANCISCO: Supervisors Blast Proposed Health Department Cutbacks
San Francisco supervisors Wednesday chastised Public Health Director Dr. Mitchell Katz for the health department's proposal to cut back services to the city's low-income residents in an effort to curb growing financial problems, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. At a hearing held by the board's Finance Committee, Supervisor Tom Ammiano said he was suffering from "aggravation, distress and betrayal" over the department's plan to address a $15 million budget deficit, especially after the board last year approved an "emergency infusion" of $20 million to the $840 million department budget. Ammiano expressed particular displeasure over the health department's plan to close the outpatient pharmacy at San Francisco General Hospital despite assurances from health officials last year that the pharmacy's problems would be solved with the "extra cash." Many of the city's uninsured and low-income residents use the hospital's pharmacy, but Katz promised that those patients would be able to get their prescriptions filled at retail pharmacies for the same price they are charged now. With 130,000 of the city's 800,000 residents lacking insurance, the hospital pharmacy has experienced an increase in business. Since August, pharmacy staff are filling 130 additional prescriptions per day. Katz told the supervisors that even with the extra finances, there are not enough staff members to handle demand. "I feel very bad about waits of three hours at the pharmacy despite the fact your committee has given me more money," Katz said. Ammiano countered, "I'm really p--d that we gave more money and the pharmacy is still understaffed."
Come Back Prepared
At the hearing, Katz called for a complete "overhaul" of the health department's operation, suggesting that the agency move away from inpatient services and focus on disease prevention instead. The committee's chair, Supervisor Leland Yee, argued that such a transition should already have taken place, saying, "We patched things up, in return hoping you would embark on a new journey. What disappoints me is that I hoped the journey would have started earlier." Yee warned Katz that "the promised new directions must be much more evident" when the agency submits its FY 2001 budget proposal this spring (Epstein, 2/10).