State lets down health department

Jessica Van Beek

The money issue in Illinois has hit home once again. The Woodford County Health Department Board of Health voted June 17 to decline the contract with the Department of Human Services for Family Case Management, Teen Parent Services and Healthworks for the 2011 fiscal year that began July 1.

To cope with the condensed funding, staff reductions have been made at the Woodford County Health Department. Administrator Laurie Schierer said the health department identified the problem and took steps to cope with the change.

“We made the cuts to remain healthy and strong,” Schierer said.

Family Case Management will be cut, which Schierer said deals with identifying medical needs of women and WIC  — Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children — appointments. The Healthworks program is similar to Family Case Management, but it focuses on children in foster care. This program will also be cut.

Teen Parent Services will be cut. Schierer described this program as designed to help pregnant teens stay in school and plan for their future. She said the health department will continue to see and help these clients, but will be spending less time with them.

Director of Nursing Lynda McKeown said the health department sees a large number of people in the WIC clinic. These are mostly the same clients who are served under the programs the health department is losing. McKeown added they will be seeing the same number of clients, but providing fewer services. Instead of case management, clients will be provided with information on referrals.

Schierer said for Family Case Management and Teen Parent Services the health department is currently referring clients to other resources in the community. She added it is possible someone else will pick up these services.

Schierer said less money means less staff. The length of the work week for employees will be shortened.

“It will take us longer to get to people who ask for our help,” Schierer said.

She said to help with this problem, the health department is seeking volunteers to answer calls.

“This has been a very trying time,” Schierer said.

Schierer said it was a difficult decision  not to renew the contract because there will be less time to spend with pregnant women and children. She added the ability to help the community has lessened, making it even more difficult with the recent flu.

Schierer said this is not something that has happened in the past, but she is not surprised with it, but rather saddened. She said she knows the state is in a financial difficulty, but she did not think it would enter into an agreement it could not keep up with.

Cutting such important programs was a difficult decision to make, but is definitely necessary, she said. Schierer said for Family Case Management, the health department has only received one-twelfth of the contracted amount every month.

The contract began July 1, 2009, and the first and only payment was received in December. The contract ended June 30, and Schierer said the health department expected the state to pay out the rest of the contract, which they will not be able to do until December of 2010.

According to Schierer, the Smoke Free Illinois program may also be in potential danger. She said they will reassign staff and cease activity, but continue the program if the state has the money. She added the Woodford County Health Department discontinued its involvement with the Illinois Breast and Cervical Cancer program in May because the Peoria City/County Health Department was the lead agency and decided to discontinue its program. Schierer said Woodford County was only doing outreach services so it did not make sense to continue with the program.

Schierer said the net loss of staff will be one full-time job and two part-time jobs lost.  

There will be seven remaining full-time positions and four part-time. Additionally, full-time employees, who used to work 40-hour weeks, will be cut to 38 hours.

New operational hours went into effect July 2. The health department will be open Monday through Thursday from 7:30 a.m. to noon and 12:45 p.m. to 4 p.m. and on Friday from 8 a.m. to noon. Emergencies that occur after hours should be referred to the public health administrator on call at 467-2375 or 911.

Schierer added the health department is looking for help and trying to adapt by seeking volunteers.