State grant cutbacks to affect four agencies from Neah Bay to Port Townsend

By Leah Leach
Peninsula Daily News

A slash of half of a state agency's contracted grants to community health clinics will carve a large dent into Olympic Community Action Programs' dental services in Port Angeles, Port Townsend and Forks -- but won't affect Jefferson Healthcare's services.

The state Health Care Authority announced this week that it suspended monthly grant payments to three dozen organizations representing 214 clinics statewide for six months beginning Jan. 1 to save about $5.3 million.

That translates into a cut of half of the contracted amounts for the fiscal year from July 1 of this year to June 30 of next year.

The move affects four agencies on the North Olympic Peninsula: Clallam Bay Medical Clinic, Jefferson Healthcare hospital, the Makah tribe and OlyCAP.

The state Health Care Authority said that the money could be reinstated if the state Legislature approves a supplemental budget.

But in the meantime, the reduction will mean a cut in dental services from OlyCAP, said Tim Hockett, OlyCAP executive director.

"It's like shooting a cannonball through the budget for the dental clinic," said Hockett, who estimated the cut represents some 20 percent of the services now provided.

"This is likely to limit service and limit the types of things we can do -- maybe not crowns or root canals" for the 1,600 to 2,000 patients the program serves annually, most in Port Angeles, he said.

OlyCAP will lose $40,525 directly, as well as an additional $19,712 through Jefferson Healthcare, which operates as a pass-through agency for OlyCAP dental services, especially in the Port Townsend area.

Jefferson Healthcare hospital, on the other hand, will absorb the cut to its Port Townsend-area medical clinics, said Paula Dowdle, chief operating officer, who oversees the physician clinics and who has written the grant proposal to the state Health Care Authority for several years.

The hospital will lose $25,683 for its medical clinics.

"There'll be no reduction in services, no reduction in staff" at the medical clinics, Dowdle said.

"We're going to have to continue to provide care," she added.

"We'll just have to be more efficient and just keep working at it."

Messages requesting comment from the Clallam Bay Medical Clinic director and the Makah tribe's clinic director were not returned.

The Clallam Bay clinic will lose $18,632 for dental services and $15,345 for medical services.

The Makah tribe will lose $23,438 for dental clinics and $22,409 for medical services.

Both Hockett and Dowdle said the state cuts are only one more among many.

Hockett said the agency expects to lose another 20 percent in funding when Medicaid funding for adult dental work is discontinued at the first of next year.

The two cuts together are "a massive blow to our program," Hockett said.

Dental services were a large need identified by the community, Hockett said, adding that many lack dental insurance.

"It's under a big threat right now," he said.

"We're meeting next week to look at our options for how we can survive."

Dowdle said that the state Health Care Authority cut "is not enough to make or break a program, but when we combine it with all the other cuts, it will impact us.

"Our overall reimbursement is being cut everywhere we look," she said.

Medicaid, Medicare, private insurance companies -- all are cutting back, Dowdle said.

"It's just hitting us on all fronts all the time," she said, adding in answer to a question that it seemed worse this year than in the past.

"We will continue to see more decreases in reimbursement," Dowdle predicted.

"We will be discussing" how to manage with less reimbursement, she said.

"How can we be more efficient? How can we give patients services they need in a less expensive manner?"

Health Care Authority spokesman Jim Stevenson said the agency already made $9.8 million in cuts after Gov. Chris Gregoire ordered across-the-board cuts in September.

But those previous reductions hadn't affected the clinic grants.

The clinic cuts detailed Wednesday are part of Gregoire's attempts to cover a deficit in the current state budget.

Original grants to Peninsula agencies are:

• OlyCAP -- $81,049 for dental; nothing for medical.

• Jefferson Healthcare -- $39,424 for OlyCAP dental services in the Port Townsend area, $51,365 for medical, for a total of $90,789.

• Clallam Bay Medical Clinic -- $37,264 for dental, $30,690 for medical, for a total of $67,954.

• Makah tribe -- $46,875 for dental, $44,817 for medical, for a total of 91,692.

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Managing Editor/News Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3531 or leah.leach@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: December 02. 2010 11:22PM
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