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Health-center funding looks to be restored

If the King County Council voted as planned, officials have restored funding to the Northshore Public Health Center in Bothell.

The council’s budget committee met Nov. 21, with a final vote by the entire council scheduled for Nov. 24, after the Reporter’s early holiday deadline for this issue.

However, Megan Heahlke, legislative aid to Council member Bob Ferguson, District 1, described Monday’s vote as largely a formality.

The Northshore Center was targeted for closure midway through 2009 in the county budget proposed by King County Executive Ron Sims.

“The executive’s proposed budget increased public health’s administrative budget, while funding was eliminated for core services, including the Northshore Public Health Center,” said Ferguson. “I proposed cutting from administration to prioritize direct service to people.”

Heahlke said that, essentially, the council left some administrative positions unfilled in order to fund the center and other health-care programs.

In addition to not filling certain empty positions, Heahlke added county council members cut or eliminated items such as replacing a voicemail system.

Under Sims’ plan, so-called “lifeboat” funding would have kept the Northshore center and numerous other county programs afloat through the first six months of 2009. In the case of the Northshore clinic, if alternative funding had not become available, the center would have closed completely June 30.

Earlier this month, Ferguson said he would need to find $1 million in order to keep the Northshore facility open throughout 2009. Heahlke said that figure was reduced to $920,000.

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 Ferguson’s office, center closure would mean the end of 3,600 family planning visits and 10,5000 annual maternity support visits. Further, more than 2,000 Women, Infant and Children (WIC) clients receive care at the center every year. James Apa, spokesman for Public Health — Seattle and King County, added that the Northshore Center serves some of the lowest income populations in the county. Ferguson said the center serves the highest number of uninsured visitors among King County’s 10 public health centers.

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.

“Funding is scarce for next year, so it is imperative that we work with Olympia and regional health-care providers to ensure that we preserve access to public health beyond 2009,” Ferguson said after the council budget meeting.

Prior to the moves made by the county council Nov. 21, Ferguson had stated he was making finding funding for the Northshore center a major priority.

“Cutting health and prevention services will generate higher costs in the long run,” Ferguson had said in the past.

“Moreover, as the economy takes its toll on jobs and family budgets, access to health care for the uninsured becomes increasingly critical.”

If the full county council voted Nov. 24 as expected, Sims must take action to sign the budget within 10 days after the adopted plan arrives in his office. This year, that 10-day period most likely will end Dec. 5.

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