Saturday, September 22, 2012

City Council Decimates Withering Health Department

A City of San Angelo press release informed citizens of public health service cuts.  Immunization availability will be reduced 80% come October 1, when services go from five days a week to one.  The City's HIV and sexually transmitted disease clinic will close on September 28. 

These are significant curtailments to very limited services offered by the City.  Council eliminated two nursing department positions or 40% of the department's staff.  A physician testified before council, begging for the Rushmores (stone faces up high) not to further decimate what little public health infrastructure remained.  The Rushmores were unmoved, not a surprise given their history.

Below is information from the 2010-2011 budget on public health services.

Council cut one position in 2010, going from 6 staff to 5.  In 2002 public health nursing had 11 staff members.  For the coming year, they'll have 3 positions.

The City also tried to generate more revenue through health department services.

Nursing staff's worry came true as volumes for immunizations dropped by 2,000 after fee increases were imposed.  STD treatment volumes rose despite higher fees.  

The Standard Times let the City Health Services Manager soft pedal the impact of service cuts in her use of half year figures on immunizations:

From a general comparison of patients from January to June of this year, Villarreal estimates that about 2,500 to 3,000 patients will be affected by the cut in immunization offerings, and at least 700 to 750 patients will be affected per year by the elimination of STD testing services.
Annualizing immunizations, the number is 5,000 to 6,000 adults who face considerable hurdles in disease prevention.  Nearly half of the AIDS/STD clinic's encounters related to education and prevention.  With those gone and STD testing unavailable through city channels, it's predictable San Angelo's sexual disease burden will rise.

Here's the final oddity.  City Council expects the health department to make 50% of the revenue it budgeted last year for injections, STD clinic and immunizations.  The amount isn't significant, but I find it odd an 80% reduction in availability should only reduce revenue 50%.  I'd expect revenue to drop more than 80% as the public writes off the city for any form of primary or preventive health care services.

I wonder how long the health services manager job will last given council already decimated the health department.  Here's what the city offered when Mayor Lown started:

That's a two thirds drop in boxes (from twelve to four), with Pharmacy, Primary Health and Social Services eliminated.  Not every city department faced a similar beating..

The City's love affair with economic development continues as leaders emphasize prospective employers, developers, and tourism.  Individual citizens are on their own. 

I wonder how many tourists and prospective employers would want to come to a city with the highest STD rate in Texas?  We're not near there, but with City Council's vision, we could be...

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