Once faced with closures and service cuts, public health clinics in Seattle and King County have gotten a reprieve.
King County Executive Ron Sims and Bob Ferguson, County Council operating budget chairman announced last week that they had come up with $5 million in reserves to fund all clinics through the end of 2008, including two clinics that were threatened with possible closure this summer. All 10 public health clinics will remain open through 2008.
"Access to health services is a fundamental responsibility of government, and I am pleased we were able to secure funding in the short term while we wait for a long-term solution," said Executive Sims. "When several school children died this winter during the flu season, our health clinics opened during Presidents Day weekend to give flu vaccinations to 2,272 people, over half of them children."
Ferguson added that he is committed to finding a long-term solution to ensure that King County's 200,000 uninsured residents have access to public clinics.
"King County residents who depend on public clinics for their health care because they cannot afford adequate insurance can rest easier tonight knowing these clinics will be funded through 2008," Ferguson said.
Dr. David Fleming, director and health officer for public health, Seattle in King County, was elated by the news.
"This is good news for people who rely on our public health centers," Fleming said. "We will continue to work with our elected officials and partners in health care to develop the best ways to assure that people have access to quality health care in our community."
The news excited dozens of King County citizens, many of whom turned out for Ferguson's Town Meeting on Public Health with Dr. Fleming last week wearing "Save our Public Clinics" T-shirts.
Sims and Ferguson cautioned the public that, although the clinics will remain open, the county recognizes that there may be the need to look at changes in operations or services provided in the attempt to meet the ongoing public health funding challenges and said the long-term public health funding shortfall has not been solved.
The public health clinics are part of a local public health network, which helps the community's uninsured residents. In 2006, this public health network received 427,680 visits from 135,912 clients, many of whom were uninsured.
On a related note, the Metropolitan King County Council passed a health initiative this week that will provide $3 million over three years to ensure that thousands of formerly uninsured children in King County have access to health and dental care, as well as preventative care.
The health initiative goal is to enroll 6,500 of the approximately 15,000 uninsured children in insurance programs within the next three years. Nine thousand additional children are eligible for the expanded health insurance coverage proposed by the governor and approved by the legislature earlier this year.
"This initiative is innovative and compassionate and puts King County on the forefront of working to make sure its children have access to health and dental care," Sims said. "It is a sound fiscal investment."