Women’s health clinic to close
By Michael Howell
Last Friday, the County Commissioners refused to accept, on a 3 to 2 vote, close to $50,000 in federal funding for Title X services in the county. Public Health Nurse Judy Griffin, obviously shaken by the decision, said that it meant closing the health department’s family planning clinic which offers annual exams, pregnancy and pap tests, testing for sexually transmitted diseases, education and counseling, as well as birth control pills and “day after” contraception pills primarily to low income women. Griffin said that it would take some time to shut down the operation, but she plans on doing so by September 30.
The commissioners first considered the funding on Thursday, September 5. At that time Commissioner Suzy Foss was absent and a motion to accept the funding failed in a tie vote with Commissioners Greg Chilcott and J.R. Iman voting in favor and Commissioners Jeff Burrows and Ron Stoltz voting against accepting the funds. It was then decided to continue the meeting to Friday to allow Commissioner Foss to vote on the issue. Earlier this year, Foss expressed deep reservations but voted in favor of taking temporary funds for the program.
On Friday, Foss expressed the same sort of misgivings, having to do with her religious beliefs, but this time changed her vote.
Foss mentioned her own personal experiences with rape and a subsequent abortion. She expressed once again how her religious beliefs make it hard to accept the funding, making her feel “torn” over the issue. She said that she had talked to several preachers and that her decision rested between her and God.
Commission Chairman Jeff Burrows said that he had a general problem with all federal programs that come with strings attached. He said in this case he did not believe the county government should be involved in personal health care at all. He said the strings attached that include treating children without parental approval were also unacceptable.
Commissioners Chilcott and Iman, who voted to accept the funding, both noted that out of about 400 clients at the clinic, only one was under 16 years of age last year. They said that cutting the services for so many low income women just because of a single objectionable case did not make sense. They said that, while there were some disagreeable aspects of the program, the benefits must be weighed against the negatives and in this case they support most of the program’s services.
Public Health Nurse Judy Griffin said on Monday that she was “deeply, deeply disappointed” in the Commissioners’ decision.
“This is a program that’s been going on for over forty years,” said Griffin. She said that the clinic was funded through September, so she was preparing for closure by September 30. She said it would mean contacting all 400 clients and informing them that the services would no longer be available.
“There are also medical records involved,” said Griffin. “Those can’t just disappear. Those records need to be available to the people in the future.” She said that it would also mean canceling a contract with the clinic physician that was to run through FY 2014. She said it will be a difficult process and she is going to be working with County CFO Klarysse Murphy to iron out the financials.
Griffin said that she is very concerned about how the clients will cope with the closure.
“Some of these people are working two jobs and still can’t afford needed medical treatment,” said Griffin. “These are hardworking, honest people who are being short changed.” She said that when these federal funds come up and are rejected by one provider they may be passed on to another instead.
“A few years ago when the funds appeared to be in jeopardy, Planned Parenthood in Missoula expressed a willingness to extend its services into Ravalli County,” said Griffin. “That may be an option.”