Neall Rescues Some Basic Health Services

October 30, 1991|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff writer

County Executive Robert R. Neall is giving the Health Department a desperately needed infusion, rescuing basic services for at least 35,000 residents, from food inspections and rodent control to preschool vision screenings and care for the county's poorest children.

In a break from the pattern of recent weeks, Neall announced yesterday he had scraped together $523,600 in county money to savecore public health services and 35 jobs.

The Health Department was reeling from a $1.3 million cut in state aid that would have required ending eight programs and severely curtailing four others. With the county's assistance, the agency can spare most of its critical services and restructure to cope with the remaining $775,375 reduction.

A budget-trimming package that eliminates 10 positions, transfers some staff and cuts the costs of the department's least-used programs was unveiled by County Health Officer Thomas C. Andrews yesterday. The plan will "reduce programs that had theleast effect on direct services to the public," he said.

If the county had not stepped in, he added, the most basic programs would have been disrupted. Among the services originally scheduled to be slashed were food inspections at 100 youth camps; rodent control, vision and hearing screening for 28,000 preschool and school children, medical treatment for 1,000 residents with sexually transmitted diseases, water monitoring and special care for 450 children. Thirty-five of thedepartment's 520 employees would have been laid off.

"It would have had a rather horrific impact, in terms of hands-on services to thepublic," Andrews said.

Neall promised yesterday that he will seekmoney to restore other critical social services. He said he's spent the past two weeks assessing damage to local programs caused by the state's sweeping cuts in government services.

During a joint press conference with Andrews at the Health Department in Annapolis, Neall said he has set aside $150,000 for drug addicts receiving treatment at four halfway houses in the county that lost all state support. Damascus House in Brooklyn Park, Raft House in Crownsville, Samaritan House in Annapolis and Chrysalis House in Pasadena were among 29 programs in the state that suffered deep cuts last week.

While acknowledging $150,000 won't keep any of the four halfway houses open for long,Neall said the money will allow 65 recovering addicts to finish their treatment. He said he's talking to the directors about merging someof the programs and expects to announce a decision next week.

Theexecutive also said he hopes to keep the county's shelter for battered women and two centers for troubled teen-agers open.

By pumping $523,600 into public health programs, the county will continue to provide care for low-income families and the working poor, who don't have medical insurance. Growing numbers of families who can't afford private insurance but don't qualify for medical assistance have turned to the Health Department for care in the past decade. Across the nation, the number of families who have complete medical coverage dropped dramatically during the 1980s, from more than 70 percent to about half.

The agency is saving $40,000 by closing four of its 14 neighborhood health clinics and another $188,840 by cutting 10 positions through layoffs and voluntary retirement. A health educator, two engineers, two part-time nurses and a mail-room clerk have been laid off, while two senior administrators decided to retire. Another two positionswere cut, but the employees were transferred.

Andrews said he also plans to save money by ending a study on the county's health needs and soliciting donations for vaccinations offered for free at the community health centers.

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