Wednesday, December 06, 2000

Health cuts opposed

By Tim Bonfield
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Residents and community groups are criticizing proposed cuts in the Cincinnati Health Department budget that could eliminate nursing-home and day-care inspections and scuttle plans for a neighborhood dental clinic.

        Overall, the health department budget — a combination of city tax funds, service fees and federal grants — is expected to be mostly unchanged for 2001 at about $40 million a year.

        However, there are controversial differences over how to spend about $200,000. Council is scheduled to act on the budget later this month.

        The health department proposal called for maintaining all its services, while adding a dental clinic in Madisonville. The clinic was the top budget request from the Madisonville Community Council, and it comes at a time when state and federal health officials have been increasingly concerned about the lack of dental care services for low-income people.

        However, a City Council vote for a property tax rollback prompted City Manager John Shirey to call for more budget trimming from city departments.

        Mr. Shirey has recommended no funding for the dental clinic and calls for eliminating nursing-home and day-care inspection programs.

        Meanwhile, Mr. Shirey recommended spending more money than requested to maintain a lead paint inspection program that runs out of federal grant support this year. While the city manager has noted that state inspectors already monitor day-care centers and nursing homes, others say the local programs should be maintained be cause the city standards are tougher than the state's.

        For example, city day-care rules require one day-care worker per four infants while state rules allow one worker to watch six infants at a time. The city also requires every child-care worker to have first-aid and CPR training, while the state requires only one trained person for the facility.

        “It's expensive and an extra layer of burden but the child-care community in Cincinnati wants the city to keep doing the inspections,” said Sallie Westheimer, executive director of 4C, an agency that trains day-care workers and helps parents find day-care services.

        “Rather than throwing the whole thing out, we think there could be ways to reduce the cost of the program,” Ms. Westheimer said.

        In Madisonville, the community council has said it has the only city clinic in town that doesn't offer dental services, while five other neighborhoods have them. They plan to ask council to reverse Mr. Shirey's recommendation.

        “We've been trying to get a dental clinic out here for 15 years,” said Sue Micheli, president of the Madisonville Community Council. “I have 16 pages of petitions from community residents who want this. I hope that helps a little bit.”

        Meanwhile, Dr. Jerald Richmond, assistant director of maternal-fetal medicine at the UC College of Medicine, has urged council to reconsider proposed cuts to the nursing-home inspection program.

        Dr. Richmond, who struggled several years ago with nursing care for his own mother, said Cincinnati provides faster and more thorough responses to complaints than the state.

        “Obviously you have never experienced what I called ... the "pure living hell' of the nursing home experience,” Dr. Richmond wrote in a Nov. 27 letter to Mr. Shirey. “But for those who must walk this road, the city's inspection program is invaluable.”


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