Care For Uninsured Is Cut

Traveling Health Clinics' Visits Are Curbed As Budget Is Halved

August 06, 2009|By Olivia Bobrowsky | Olivia Bobrowsky,olivia.bobrowsky@baltsun.com

In the wake of severe funding cuts, a Maryland health care program that aids uninsured residents will curtail its operations this month.

The University of Maryland's fleet of traveling health clinics won't make stops anymore in Glen Burnie, Cumberland and in a few locations on the lower Eastern Shore. In all, the budget for the School of Nursing's Wellmobile will be cut in half.

"We're going to work to design a program that fits within the budget constraints," said Wellmobile's director, Susan Antol, who's still not sure of all the changes. "It may have a different mission. It's all to be decided once we determine how we're going forth with our current clients and resolving their issues."

The Maryland Board of Public Works trimmed the program's funding last month to $285,250.

Wellmobile has served as a safety net for people who usually turn to hospital emergency rooms for their only source of health care. The School of Nursing estimates the program saved Maryland more than $2.7 million in averted emergency room visits annually. It started in 1994 and helped more than 7,500 uninsured individuals in fiscal 2008, according to Wellmobile's Web site.

Antol said the program is still in the process of notifying patients and helping them find other health centers.

"I don't know how the patients are dealing with this, but this isn't the first time that a patient has been told that their doctor's office isn't going to be in business," Antol said. "We'll work through it."

In order to do so, Wellmobile staff members are being let go, although the exact number of layoffs is uncertain as Antol is still rethinking the program.

Right now, she's focused on the future and doesn't think there's any sense in stressing about what's already finalized.

"People can complain and panic that we lost this, but I'd much rather that energy go toward not losing what we have left," she said. "We're not going to get back what the governor cut."

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