The latest victim of deep cuts to health and human service funding at the state and federal level, the Vineyard Family Planning clinic, which has provided Islanders with a wide array of confidential health services at affordable rates for some 30 years, is now facing the very real threat of closure.
“This is a crisis — our clinic is at risk,” wrote Friends of Family Planning chairman Miryam Gerson in a letter to the editor this week. “There have been budget cuts in the past, but nothing as drastic as these potential cuts. Reduction in funds from the state on top of the federal cuts could be the death knell for our beloved clinic.”
The Vineyard clinic is managed by Health Imperatives Inc., formerly Health Care of Southeastern Massachusetts, and chief executive officer Sheldon Barr confirmed the news: The outlook for the Vineyard clinic is dim if the proposed budget cuts are approved at the state level.
“I think we’re looking at ways of handling this cut in ways of doing the least damage but when you get a cut of this magnitude, it’s hard not to do damage,” Mr. Barr said. In addition to the Vineyard clinic, the health group manages eight other clinics on Cape Cod.
“We’ve been through this before with state cuts of even greater magnitude . . . but you end up cutting back so far that you don’t’ have the staff to run it and then patients don’t come in,” Mr. Barr said. “We’ve learned a lot in having to deal with this situation in the past, hoping we don’t have to go to clinic closings if we can get the state dollars up where we want them to be.”
Numbers tell the story, starting at the federal level where $17 million of Title X funding is being slashed nationwide. Title X provides federal Family Planning money that is funneled through the state; Mr. Barr said he is expecting a 5.5 per cent cut in Title X funds to his organization over the course of six months, or 11 per cent for the year.
In the first six months this would translate to an $80,000 cut for the health group.
Gov. Deval Patrick has yet to sign off on next year’s state budget, but the numbers don’t get any better at the state level. The governor is requesting a $1 million cut from this year’s $4.65 million designated for Family Planning statewide, a 22 per cent decrease. The state house of representatives has asked for a similar reduction of 21 per cent, or $977,000, but the state senate voted to level fund the budget.
The Vineyard clinic’s total operating budget is $211,000 this year, down $39,000 from last year, $70,000 of which comes from Title X monies. The state Department of Public Health contributes $42,000 to the clinic’s budget; $90,000 comes from client fees and the rest comes from third-party insurance fees. This year’s revenue is projected to be $233,000.
The clinic offers confidential reproductive health care to men and women, vasectomy reimbursements, free HIV and sexually transmitted disease testing, pregnancy tests, pap smears and birth control, all offered on a sliding scale fee.
The news that the clinic could close comes during the height of a national debate on the funding of reproductive health services. President Obama has proposed $317 million for Family Planning funding in the 2012 budget, but the Republican-controlled House wants to cut Title X funding altogether.
In a brief telephone interview this week, Governor Patrick bluntly laid the blame for the problem on Washington.
“What’s going on in Washington is an example of the failure of long-term governing,” he said, referring to the federal cuts to Title X money. “In order to make some short-term political point we are going to disadvantage mainly poor people who may be faced with the most profound cuts.”
Nevertheless, he said he could not presage what will happen at the state level.
“I can’t and won’t predict where it will land yet, but I don’t think it will be quite as desperate as portrayed,” Mr. Patrick said.
The dire news lends added importance to the Friends of Family Planning annual art show and sale set for this weekend at the Agricultural Hall in West Tisbury, the largest fund-raising event of the year for Family Planning. The show will run today, tomorrow and Sunday. Admission and parking are free; 40 per cent or more of all sales go directly to the Friends of Family Planning.
Mr. Barr said everything is at risk given the unknown outcome of a senate and house agreement, and both he and clinic director Catherine Coogan remain cautiously optimistic.
“We’re very hopeful but if they [at the state level] come out closer to the house’s recommendations, we are going to be in trouble because we don’t know how we’ll survive with that funding,” Mrs. Coogan said. “If the clinic closes, I think it would take away a lot. Last year we had over 1,000 clients here on the Vineyard. We serve year-round people, summer people, and it’s affordable and safe.”
Mrs. Coogan said she and her staff have been working under the constant threat of being closed, but everyone’s spirits have remained high.
“It’s very easy to get into a negative direction and they don’t, they believe in what they do and that’s the most important piece and that’s what keeps them going,” she said.
The senate is expected to complete its budget in the next few days, after which a joint conference committee will meet to come up with a compromise to send to Governor Patrick. If the governor doesn’t like the numbers he sees, he can veto it; after that it would have to return to the house and senate for an override vote.
Cape and Islands Rep. Timothy Madden said he is working hard on behalf of the Vineyard clinic. “I’ll be lobbying as will Sen. Dan Wolf to keep the money in there and to go with the senate number,” Mr. Madden said yesterday. “Hopefully we’ll be able to do that, but I won’t know until I see it.”
Mr. Madden suggested seasonal Island residents who live in Massachusetts contact their own state representatives with comments. The joint committee has not yet been named.
In her letter, which appears in today’s Gazette, Ms. Gerson urges Vineyarders to contact Mr. Wolf and Mr. Madden. “We need your help,” she wrote.