Budget cuts could wreck ride program

Alta Cole, a van driver for Curry County’s Maternal-Child Health Council program, left, talks with Jessica Hernandez, of Texico, as she takes Hernandez to a doctor’s appointment Wednesday in Clovis. (staff photo: Eric Kluth)

By Jack King: CNJ Staff Writer

Nine months pregnant, Clovis resident Myishia Cotton has no car and few relatives in Clovis.

Without the help of Curry County’s Maternal-Child Health Council van program, she would have no way to get to the doctor, the hospital, the pharmacy or any of the other services that help ensure the health of herself and her baby, she said.

“It’s hard, and I have to come twice a week, because I have toxemia,” she said.

To Cotton, the woman who drives a van for the program is a lifesaver.

“For me she is, and she’s real courteous. It makes it easy on pregnant women,” she said.

For 10 years, the van program has offered transportation for mothers and their children, who otherwise, could not reach vital health services. The van made more than 1,000 trips just this year, said County Grants Facilitator Twyla Rutter-Wooley.

Now, because of cutbacks in the state Department of Health, the van program is endangered, Rutter-Wooley said.
In the past, she explained, the county’s Mother and Child Health Council and its Wellness Council have pooled their funds. Last year, for example, the combined total from the two groups was $104,000.

“But now, Health Secretary Patricia Montoya and (Acting Director of the Office of Health Promotion and Community Health Improvement) Christina Carrillo are telling us we’ve got to combine the MCH Council and the Wellness Council, that we can only apply for $50,000 and that we can’t provide any direct services, like the van program,” she said.

Furthermore, Rutter-Wooley said, the councils are being told they must spread their reduced funds over a much wider range of programs.

“In the past, we set our own goals, which were mother and child health and preventing substance abuse prevention. Now, we’re being told we have to take on the state’s objectives, which are increasing immunizations, reducing teen pregnancy, reducing obesity, reducing suicides, reducing substance abuse and reducing domestic violence,” she said.

With less money, spread over more programs, and with a prohibition against offering direct services, Rutter-Wooley said she is scrambling to find alternate funding for the van program.

“I think we can piecemeal. I hate to do that, but we’ve got to keep this program together,” she said.

Department of Health spokeswoman Beth Velasquez said the department has two reasons for making its policy change: economics and a desire to get back to basics.
“We’re basically having to make some cuts and these programs are impacted. We have a flat budget this year and we’re being asked to do more with less,” she said.

“Also, there is an intent to get back to the original purpose of these councils, which was coordinating services,” she added.

Most county health councils in the state will get $50,000 this year, to do coordinating work. Also, counties will get some money to provide direct services this year, although it hasn’t been determined how much each county will get, she said.
Velasquez denied the department is requiring counties to undertake the state’s priorities.

“(The counties) have expressed a strong desire to work on their own priorities. We have asked them to consider also working on state priorities. Nothing was mandated,” she said.

Wooley-Rutter said that, at an April 2 meeting between Montoya, Health Department officials, and county health council members, “the word ‘must’ definitely was used.”
That’s not the case, Velasquez replied.

“I’ve talked to Patsy Neilson, deputy director of our Public Health Division, who was at the meeting. She said that wasn’t the way it was presented,” she said.