Northshore Health Center could fall victim to King County budget cuts

Various officials say King County’s well-publicized financial problems could lead to the complete closure of the Northshore Public Health Center in Bothell on Northeast 145th Street halfway through 2009.

So-called “lifeboat” funding would keep the center open until June 30, but James Apa, spokesman for Public Health — Seattle and King County, said unless officials can successfully lobby Olympia for some additional dollars, funding for the center could disappear.

The Northshore Center is aimed at low-income mothers and children. Center Manager David Reyes said Northshore offers, among many other services, family planning, nutrition and health coaching for young, low-income mothers, as well as basic health care, including immunizations, for newborns. The center provides sex education for young adults, as well as access to birth control. The center further treats sexually transmitted diseases.

According to information provided by King County Councilmember Bob Ferguson, center closure means the end of 3,600 family planning visits and 10,5000 annual maternity support visits.

Additionally, more than 2,000 Women, Infant and Children (WIC) clients would be without service or would have to travel elsewhere to receive services.

“If the Northshore Center is closed, the closest public-health centers for patients will be in Seattle and south Bellevue,” said Bothell Mayor Mark Lamb. “These residents already face significant barriers to care, and now the county is asking the most vulnerable members of our community to bear an even greater burden.”

Apa added the Northshore Center serves some of the lowest income populations in the county.

According to information on the county’s Web site, the Northshore Center services a client base that is poor (82 percent), uninsured (21 percent), persons of color (50 percent) and non-English speaking (19 percent). Reyes added that his clinic’s service area extends well beyond Bothell, into cities such as Duvall, Monroe and Carnation.

“Cutting health and prevention services will generate higher costs in the long run,” Ferguson maintains. “Moreover, as the economy takes its toll on jobs and family budgets, access to health care for the uninsured becomes increasingly critical.”

Ferguson later added that as the county council looks over the existing spending plan, his top priority is restoring funding for the Northshore clinic.

“That won’t be easy,” he said, stating he will need to find approximately $1 million in order to keep Northshore’s door open beyond June.

One Northshore client, who asked that only her first name be used, said she has made extensive use of the center. That client, Marcia, said she became unexpectedly pregnant with her second child about six years ago. She was married, but the young family was having financial difficulties, made worse when her first husband left her.

“I had no idea where to go,” Marcia said, when she was referred to Northshore.

Marcia said the clinic provided her with prenatal care and nurses visited her home regularly when her second baby was born a month premature and Marcia found herself suffering from what she described as severe postpartum depression. Marcia added she also visited the center for nutrition classes, learning how to cook for her growing family.

Marcia is now remarried and once more pregnant. But, according to Marcia, her new husband was recently laid off due to the faltering economy. Marcia said she was decidedly counting on Northshore to once more be there for her and her children.

“I don’t even know where any other centers are,” she said, adding she would miss the doctors and staffers she has worked with for years and stating continuity of care and trust between staff and patient is clearly important.

“I’ve never seen that place when it has been empty, it’s always crowded,” Marcia added.

Apa said the cuts to Northshore are included in the 2009 budget proposal created by King County Executive Ron Sims and presented to the county council, which has the final say. Apa said that all in all, his department is being asked to reduce spending by $19 million. Serving on the county’s budget leadership team, Ferguson said the county council will come up with an alternative to Sims’ plan by Nov. 21, with a vote on the budget arriving Nov. 24.

The Northshore Health Center is not the only local service center facing serious county budget cuts. Like the health center, the Northshore Senior Center could lose 100 percent of its county funding by mid-2009, though there are no plans to close that facility, according to center Director Lee Harper. She did say the center ultimately could be forced to greatly reduce or eliminate certain services, particularly in the area of adult day care.

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