published Tuesday, November 8th, 2011

Whitfield County Health Department copes with cutbacks and layoffs

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DALTON, Ga. -- After a board decision to lay off 10 workers and furlough employees two days a month, Whitfield County Health Department staffers said their focus is on providing the same level of service for their patients.

"We are shifting some people around within the departments and trying to find ways to work leaner," said Cheryl Wheeler, who manages the health department.

Last year, about 94,000 people visited the department, which provides primary care through a walk-in clinic, children's center, women's center and a dental clinic.

Ten people, including four nurses, four clerks and two technicians from the Medical Access Clinic, the Women's Center and Children's Center, will lose their jobs on Dec. 1.

The remaining employees will be furloughed two Fridays a month, so the department will be closed on those two days through the end of the budget year in June 2012.

The changes will save the department more than $1 million through the end of June 2013, officials said.

The cuts came after the department lost funding from state and local governments, Board of Health Chairman Bruce Broadrick said.

In 2011, Whitfield County officials cut funding for the department from about $1.2 million to $250,000, and they have budgeted $250,000 for 2012.

The department also has lost about $75,000 a year over the next seven years in state grant funding, Broadrick said.

The department has an annual operating budget of about $6 million, which comes from insurance and patient payments, Medicaid, Medicare and local and state funding.

The department used money from its fund balance to supplement its budget since the cuts, but Broadrick said that was not a long-term solution.

"We had the management team create a sustainability plan," he said. "With the changes, we now will be sustainable through 2015."

The health department offers a low-cost service for thousands of people who have nowhere else to go, Broadrick said. Funding needs to remain a priority, he said.

"Health care is a basic human need," he said. "We've got a valuable asset, and we don't need to let it go away."

Contact Mariann Martin at mmartin@timesfreepress.com or 706-980-5824.

about Mariann Martin...

Mariann Martin covers healthcare in Chattanooga and the surrounding region. She joined the Times Free Press in February 2011, after covering crime and courts for the Jackson (Tenn.) Sun for two years. Mariann was born in Indiana, but grew up in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Belize. She graduated from Union University in 2005 with degrees in English and history and has master’s degrees in international relations and history from the University of Toronto. While attending Union, ...

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ceeweed said...

Magical thinking is a symptom of a delusional illness...The illness usually occurs as a random isolated case and not as an outbreak affecting an entire group of state and local politicians, as well as, the board of directors of this county health department...Just how do they plan to provide the same level of care to the nearly 8,000 patients they see a month?...The remaining employees will need their furlough days just to maintain their own physical and mental health...Since the majority of the patients, served at a county health department, are poor and/or working poor, it should not affect the masses who are Soooo satisfied with our great health care delivery system.

November 8, 2011 at 5:56 p.m.
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