Public health centers in danger of closing

Unless the county can immediately cough up another $5 million and figure out a way to sustain their operation, it is likely that the North Seattle Public Health (located in Northgate), a dental clinic on Lake City Way Northeast and King County Public Health at Northshore (located in Bothell) will all close.

This is based on the 2007 budget that King County Executive Ron Sims will officially hand over to the Metropolitan King County Council on Oct. 16, with a final decision to be announced Nov. 20.

What's at stake

It is estimated that 150 jobs would be lost, and according to Northshore employee Suzanne Gordon, "This is a cost-cutting measure that would save $4.6 million and leave no access to public health care in North Seattle and the Eastside.

"The low-income people who use these clinics, which saw more than 19,000 people in the first half of 2006, will be left stranded and will force them to travel south to receive low-income medical/mental/dental care," Gordon said.

"There is the real possibility that our clients will choose not to get treated at all as they have transportation issues or other obstacles in getting access to health care for themselves and their families," she said.

"All three sites combined have served 80,000 people," Gordon added. "Where will they go if the proposal goes through? In the event of a large-scale disaster, who will be available to assist the public?"

A matter of money

Bob Cowan, King County's budget director, stated simply that "the problem is money and availability of money."

He explained that between the swelling numbers of uninsured and underinsured and the fact that the county doesn't get reimbursed by Medicaid or other insurance, the public-health budget jumped from $18 million in 2005 to $23 million in 2006.

The extra $5 million came from the current expense fund, which also pays for general governmental expenditures such as traffic safety, the court systems and the sheriff's department.

"The issue," Cowan said, "is our ability to sustain that percentage growth each year. Our revenues aren't growing that rapidly."

However, the public-health budget is currently competing with the sheriff's Blue Ribbon Panel report on 9/11, which recommended nine priority additions to the sheriff's budget.

Cowan said it costs $4.5 million to operate the two health centers for the year; the dental clinic wasn't mentioned. Cowan stated that about 40 percent of the current expense fund is comprised of property tax, with some revenues coming from new construction.

The next biggest source is sales tax, he said, which has been increasing at an annual rate of about 8 to 9 percent over the last couple of years. "That won't last forever," he said.

Moreover, property tax is limited to 1 percent growth per year, obviously far below the rate of inflation.[[In-content Ad]]