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More county health services cuts on table

Stanislaus County officials are proposing more cuts to clinical services for low-income and uninsured residents, even though the county expects to receive more federal money for its health clinics.

Under recommendations going to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, the county would eliminate clinical lab and radiology services. It also would cut hours of operation at the urgent care clinic on Scenic Drive from 84 to 36 a week and tighten eligibility requirements for the medically indigent adult program.

Within the past two years, the county has merged clinics and scaled back serv- ices in attempts to reduce multimillion- dollar annual deficits.

The county expects to be awarded a federal designation in a couple of weeks that would increase reimbursements to county clinics for Medi-Cal and Medicare patient visits, saving the county about $6.4 million a year.

The county Health Services Agency still needs to slash spending by more than $6 million to address a $12.6 million shortfall for 2007-08, said Mary Ann Lee, the agency's director. Those kinds of deficits threaten the future of the clinic system, county officials have said.

"In an effort to preserve as much access to care as possible, we are faced with some tough decisions," Lee said Friday. "We already have many patients in the clinic system who use other providers for clinical lab and radiology services."

The county has operated lab and radiology services at the Health Services Agency center on Scenic Drive in Modesto for patients who use the county's six health clinics. If the services are axed, patients will have to go to other providers for X-rays or to have blood drawn for tests. The county will contract with firms to provide the services for patients in the county's medically indigent adult program, Lee said.

Advocates: Inconvenient for patients

Dianne Hernandez, president of Congregations Building Community, an advocacy group that focuses on health issues, said it will be an inconvenience for patients.

"The Scenic campus seems to be the central location for many people," she said. "I have no idea where they are thinking of sending people. Some of those lab facilities are in out-of-the-way areas."

Lee noted that many patients who use the county's family practice clinic on Paradise Road in west Modesto travel to the Scenic offices for lab work or X-rays.

In another change, the urgent care clinic at the Scenic complex mainly would serve patients during evening hours Monday through Friday. Hours would change to 5 to 9 p.m. weekdays, and the center would serve patients from noon to 8 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. At present, the center is open 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. seven days a week.

Also, the county would reduce the maximum level for eligibility for the medically indigent adult program from 250 percent of the federal poverty level to 200 percent.

County staff members are asking the supervisors to schedule a public hearing to allow people to comment on the service cuts. The measures would eliminate about 30 health services positions. Lee said the county would try to find jobs in other county offices for affected employees.

The Board of Supervisors will meet at 9 a.m. Tuesday in the basement chamber of Tenth Street Place, 1010 Tenth St., Modesto.

Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at kcarlson@modbee.com or 578-2321.

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