Sonoma County health clinics fear federal cuts

  • 3/31/2010: A1:

    PC: Dr. Julie Riser checks the tonsils of Crystal Vasquez, 7, while her mother Maria Escutia looks on at the Southwest Community Health Center. The low-income clinic was able to hire Dr. Riser with federal stimulus money.

Community health centers in Sonoma County and across the state are bracing for federal funding cuts, with millions at stake in congressional budget deliberations.

"Everybody's very worried," said Naomi Fuchs, chief executive officer of Santa Rosa Community Health Centers, a network of eight clinics that serves 34,000 patients. "We hope the funding is restored."

The Santa Rosa organization would lose $1.5 million, forcing cutbacks in staffing and services, including a planned expansion of medical care and other services to the homeless, Fuchs said.

Statewide, the loss would deal a "crippling blow" to efforts to boost clinic capacity incorporated in the health care overhaul, said Carmela Castellano-Garcia, president and CEO of California Primary Care Association.

About 4.7 million Californians, including 55,600 in Sonoma County, are expected to gain health insurance under the law starting in 2014, and many will turn to health centers for care, officials say.

"This is absolutely a move that will undermine the promise of health care reform," Castellano-Garcia said.

The association represents 800 community clinics and health centers statewide that would absorb the $32 million cut approved by the House last weekend. The budget is still pending as a March 4 deadline to avoid a government shutdown approaches.

California's potential loss is part of a $1.3 billion community health center funding reduction included in a Republican-backed plan to slice $61 billion in federal spending over the next seven months.

North Coast Reps. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, and Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, voted against the spending cuts, along with all other Democrats and three Republicans. The measure passed, 235-189.

Senate Democrats declared the plan dead on arrival, and negotiations continue in an effort to avert the shutdown if no spending plan is in place by March 4.

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