Budget cuts could lead Community Health Centers of the Central Coast, which operates local clinics geared to low-income and uninsured residents, to reduce or change the services it offers.
“It can mean longer wait times for services,” said Kena Burke, CHC’s community and government relations officer. “There are all kinds of impacts that may happen, and we’re trying to figure out what they’re going to be.”
The nonprofit network of community clinics has already cut 24 jobs, including four in San Luis Obispo County, as the network starts “streamlining and consolidating.”
The layoffs alone are not expected to affect services at the 25 clinics that CHC operates in San Luis Obispo and northern Santa Barbara counties, Burke said.
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However, CHC also faces a $600,000 to $800,000 reduction in the $3 million it receives from San Luis Obispo County to offer services to low-income and uninsured residents at 17 clinics in the county.
County Public Health Services faces a $2.5 million cut in general fund money in the next fiscal year, Health Agency Director Jeff Hamm said.
“When the county has to get smaller, nothing is off limits,” he said.
The county started negotiating with CHC several months ago and has been discussing whether a fee-for-service arrangement would work better than the current grant system.
The county contracted with CHC in 2004 to take over six county-run medical clinics a year after the Board of Supervisors closed San Luis Obispo General Hospital.
For four years, the grant funding increased about $200,000 each year, to $5.2 million in the 2006-07 fiscal year, Hamm said.
The funds helped CHC build up its services and take care of people, “which is exactly what the county wanted,” he said. But then, the recession hit.
Since the 2008-09 fiscal year, CHC has seen its grant funding drop to $3 million this fiscal year, which ends June 30.
Burke said CHC is also anticipating a $1.5 million cut in state funding and a $1.6 million reduction in money it receives from CenCal Health, which in 2008 started managing coverage for San Luis Obispo County residents covered by Medi-Cal.
The grants from the county equal about 5 percent of CHC’s $58.5 million operating budget, which is up from $53 million in 2009.
Legally, the county has to ensure the provision of services to medically indigent adults — people who have low incomes, limited assets and have a medical condition that requires treatment. They made up 5 percent of the 208,000 visits to CHC clinics in San Luis Obispo County last year.
In 2010, CHC served 74,285 patients — about 33 percent of whom were uninsured — in 335,846 clinic visits in the two counties.
CHC has more than 500 employees in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties. Burke declined to say which positions were recently reorganized and which were eliminated.