2 to lose jobs under Benton Franklin Health District budget

By Michelle Dupler, Tri-City HeraldDecember 21, 2012 

Two people are being laid off from the Benton Franklin Health District under the 2013 budget, which also eliminates a public health program for pregnant women and one that helps low-income people access medical care.

"Lack of funding continues to limit the services public health can provide, but BFHD is always exploring opportunities to collaborate with community partners in protecting the health of the community, particularly our more vulnerable populations," Dr. Amy Person, the bicounty health officer, said in a statement.

The $8.9 million budget for 2013 includes about a 7 percent increase in what the district is paying for salaries and benefits -- mostly through increases in retirement costs and health care expenses for employees, said Matt Truman, the district's finance manager.

The 2012 budget allocated $6.23 million for salaries and benefits compared with $6.66 million for 2013.

Truman said that also includes a 2 percent raise for members of the Washington State Nurses Association negotiated earlier this year. He estimated the raises account for about $30,000 in the overall budget.

The budget leaves $500,000 in reserves.

One bright spot in the budget is an almost $700,000 grant for the district to participate in the Nurse Family Partnership, a program paid for by the state Department of Early Learning and Thrive By Five that involves home visits for pregnant women and families with young kids to ensure the children have happy, healthy and safe environments in which to grow.

Sandy Owen, director of preventive health services for the district, said five public health nurses are being moved into the Nurse Family Partnership program.

Those jobs otherwise would have been cut, but the trade-off is that those nurses will be limited to providing only services covered by the program instead of the broader services they have provided to residents of the two counties, she said.

The two positions being eliminated are a health services worker providing Medicaid outreach and a behavioral health worker in the First Steps program. Both programs are being eliminated.

Owen said the Medicaid outreach person helps 1,200 people access payments for medical care each year, primarily through Medicaid or the state's Basic Health Plan.

The First Steps program offers education and referrals for assorted services to about 1,000 pregnant women in Benton and Franklin counties, including in-home visits.

While the Nurse Family Partnership offers similar help, it's limited to just 100 women in Franklin County, Owen said.

-- Michelle Dupler: 582-1543; mdupler@tricityherald.com

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