Kane Co. health department prepares for layoffs

Thursday, July 01, 2010

More than 6,000 new moms and their babies will need a new route to find basic medical care as the Kane County Health Department prepares to lay off at least 50 employees.

The announcement came Wednesday after Paul Kuehnert, executive director of the health department, told the Kane County Board he has little confidence the state will make good on the $1.7 million owed for services already provided. This is the second year in a row the health department has faced an extensive backlog in state payments. Last year, the county used riverboat money to finance a line of credit to the health department to be paid back as state payments came in. But that was with the understanding that the state would catch up on payments within six months. This year, county officials believe the late payments could take as long as 18 months to receive.

"What's absolutely clear is that this state system is broken," Kuehnert said. "The fact that it's broken has consequences. And now we're seeing those consequences begin to play out. It's already been bad enough. The future looks worse."

The health department must work with state officials to determine which of the services it provides can be shifted to other agencies, or perhaps community organizations. However, many community health organizations have also reported severe backlogs in state payments. Kuehnert said exactly what cuts the county will make are still unclear, but family case management services will certainly be one of the program casualties.

That program provides access to Medicaid and referrals to obstetricians for about 6,000 low-income mothers-to-be and their babies once born in Kane County. When the county's program disappears, those moms will have to navigate the system on their own, Kuehnert said. The best the health department will be able to do is provide some information and phone numbers to call on its website. The elimination of the program, and possibly others, will be the result of at least 50 health department employees losing their jobs. State funds account for nearly half of the county health department's budget every year. The layoff of 50 employees would equate to about 40 percent of the department's staff. Employees must receive a 30-day notice before the layoffs can occur. That formal notice is expected July 14.

Gerald Jones, chairman of the county board's Public Health Committee, said a depleted health department has many ramifications.

"It's more than the poor who are going to suffer," Jones said. "If you cannot ensure that you're going to have a healthy community, then this is not a community that people would want to come to build their businesses and create economic growth. You need to have a healthy population to have a healthy working population."