Health problems grow, but budget gets smaller Baltimore Co. Council is asked not to cut health, social services.

May 13, 1992|By Patrick Ercolano | Patrick Ercolano,Staff Writer

If Baltimore County were to get a physical examination, the results would show a generally healthy patient, but one that is vulnerable to serious health and social problems.

The number of teen pregnancies in the county, for example, is on the rise, jumping from 1,944 in 1988 to 2,094 in 1989. The infant mortality rate -- the number of children who die before their first birthday -- climbed from 7 1/2 per 1,000 to 10 per 1,000 during the same period.

About one-third of 2-year-olds in the county haven't been properly immunized against childhood illnesses such as measles, mumps and rubella. And many children never get the shots because their parents aren't aware of county immunization programs.

To make things worse, budget constraints are forcing the county to drop at least 56 full-time public health nurses from Health Department roles after July 1. These nurses make home-care visits to the elderly and provide treatment at both public clinics and private schools in Baltimore County.

This is only part of the picture drawn yesterday by Dr. Margaret L. Sherrard, director of the county Health Department, and Camille Wheeler, director of the Social Services Department, during the County Council's review of the proposed 1993 budget for the health and social service departments.

County Executive Roger Hayden has proposed that the Health Department receive $32.3 million for fiscal year 1993, which begins July 1 and ends June 30, 1993 -- a $1.1 million decrease from the current budget. Mr. Hayden recommended $4.7 million for Social Services, an increase of about $650,000 over the current allocation.

The County Council cannot add to the budget, but can cut it. And both Dr. Sherrard and Ms. Wheeler urged that the budgets proposed by Mr. Hayden not be cut any further.

"If we have a way to provide certain services, and it's cheap, then it seems a shame not to provide them to people who otherwise couldn't afford them," said Dr. Sherrard. As an example, she cited the $1.1 million reduction in public nursing programs, the largest cut in the proposed health budget.

Ms. Wheeler said she is particularly concerned about the proposed 75 percent reduction in Social Service emergency funds -- from $120,000 this year to $30,000 in 1993. The Social Services Department handed out $19,000 in emergency funds last month alone, said the director. "I don't know how we're going to get along with $30,000 over a whole year," she added.

What's worse, she said, the state stopped offering emergency aid April 1, leaving the needy even more dependent on local government help.

Ms. Wheeler added that the impact of the proposed $650,000 increase in the Social Services budget is diminished by recent increases in the caseload. According to a department report issued in March, Aid to Families with Dependent Children jumped 22 percent from 1990 to 1991.

Ms. Wheeler summed up her case to council members: "We're not getting enough money, and we're talking here about cutting more?"

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