Audiology clinic to reopen if state aid is restored Prospects look good, health officer says

March 02, 1993|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Staff Writer

If Carroll County Health Officer Janet Neslen gets the expected restoration of state aid in next year's budget, her first priority is to reopen the audiology clinic.

Closure of the clinic that provided hearing tests and hearing aids, primarily to elderly clients, generated the strongest public outcry of the six programs and services that were eliminated by the county Health Department at the end of December.

Health Department officials eliminated or reduced services and laid off three nurses after the state government cut the local department's budget last fall and the county government picked up only part of the lost revenues.

Dr. Neslen said last week that prospects look good for about $1.08 million in state aid to the department's 1993-1994 budget, close to the original $1.3 million 1992-1993 allocation.

State officials cut $659,000 from this year's allocation last October, four months into the fiscal year, in a state budget crisis.

"Now, downtown [the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene] is telling us, 'We're pretty confident you'll be getting your targeted funds for fiscal '94,' " Dr. Neslen said.

The health officer said restoration of the state money would allow the county to reduce the $483,000 that the commissioners took out of county budget money to cover 73 percent of the state cuts for the remainder of this fiscal year.

Programs and services in line for possible restoration in the fiscal year that begins July 1, if the state aid comes through, are:

* Audiology clinic. Weekly or twice-weekly clinics, operated by an audiologist under contract with the Health Department, served more than 400 clients in the last 12 months.

"This is really the clinic we've gotten the most calls on of those that were discontinued," said Donna M. Hopkins, Health Department director of nursing.

* Ear, nose and throat and neurology clinics. The staff placed clients of the two clinics with private physicians, Dr. Neslen said.

* Personal care program. The program provides services that allow individuals to stay in their own homes rather than having to enter nursing homes.

Dr. Neslen said the program is operating on a limited basis, and she is unsure what changes may be made in personal care and in the geriatric evaluation service that helps the elderly find appropriate placement in assisted-living housing or nursing homes.

* Exotic bird sales inspections. The environmental health division stopped inspecting stores that plan to sell exotic birds, and now issues permits without checking the facilities.

* Water supply investigations. Sanitarians still check suspected contamination, but they have had to stop tracing sources of contamination other than fecal coliform bacteria.

For other contaminants, "We would advise treating the water but would not investigate the source," said Charles L. Zeleski, assistant director of environmental health.

* Environmental assessments. Corporations or lending agencies frequently request file searches of properties.

The staff is continuing to do very limited research and now replies by form letter rather than individual reports on the properties.

* Landfill monitoring. The staff stopped checking the county landfills for proper practices, a local supplement to state inspections.

* Sanitary surveys. Surveys of older Carroll communities for possible widespread septic tank failures have been halted, and the department lacks personnel to assess results of communities surveyed earlier.

Mr. Zeleski said that if the commissioners increased user fees, the division would return some of the county supplement and restore sanitary surveys.

Commissioner President Donald I. Dell said he wouldn't rule out raising user fees, but he personally opposes them.

"My philosophy is, fees are taxes, and we've tried not to increase fees or taxes," Mr. Dell said.

Aren't the commissioners spending all county taxpayers' dollars to supplement the Health Department budget rather than having those who use the services pay the tab? Mr. Dell was asked.

"On the surface, that appears to be the case, and I don't really have a logical explanation for that," he said. He said the state aid to the department also represents general tax dollars.

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