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April 14, 2003


More Proposed Cuts to the City’s Health Services

By Michael Lyon

The City proposes to cut healthcare and other needed services to San Francisco residents. Currently, San Francisco residents and health workers are faced with the mayor or supervisors’ elimination of mental-health day treatment, most substance-abuse treatment, adult dental care, sub-acute care at the Mental Health Rehab Facility, the Oceanview-Merced-Ingleside (OMI) Family Center, SF General Hospital Patient Referral, half the SF General Hospital translators, and deep cuts to homeless and child-protection services. Moreover, the budget situation is so fluid that although half-time closure of the City Health Centers is currently off the table, it remains in easy reach.

South East San Francisco residents have been neglected by the Health Department for years in many ways, ranging from inadequate services at the SouthEast Health Center to failure to deal with toxics from the Shipyard and the PG&E plant and mold in housing, producing tremendously high asthma rates. This year’s cuts to Southeast San Francisco health include cuts to Bayview Adult Day Health Center, Bayview HP Thunderseed Day Treatment Program, Bayview HP Acupuncture Program, and Potrero Hill Neighborhood House.

A particularly disturbing development is the Sheriff's threat to contract out health services for 2,300 inmates at county jails. Private national companies like Prison Health Services that contract for "correctional health" are responsible for the neglect and even deaths of prisoners across the country. Each pill dispensed means less profit. As a result of past legal action in San Francisco, a consent decree turned over health services in the county jails to the Health Department. Although the Health Department's jail health programs have always been under pressure and previous years’ budgets tried to cut services, there has been a cadre of dedicated public health nurses and doctors who tried to address prisoners' immediate and long-standing health problems. Now that the consent decree has expired, the Sheriff's office wants to reassume control over jail health and contract out. The Health Department has already said having a private contractor would reduce prisoners' visits to SF General Hospital.

This is an attack on people with psychiatric and substance-abuse problems, since the shortage of services forces many into jail. It is an attack on homeless people, whom the City intends to jail in increasing numbers. It is an attack on minorities, especially youths, who are victims of mass incarceration and the "war on drugs." Finally, it is an attack on our neighborhoods, as prisoners will eventually be released with untreated medical and mental problems. Although the Sheriff’s Department expects to save $9 million, contracting out will not save money in the long run. Private companies are known to make huge rate increases in succeeding years as prisons become more dependent on contracted services. Contracting out also exposes the City to expensive lawsuits similar to those against state prisons.

Although the City's plans to offset its projected $350 million shortfall with plans for service cuts and layoffs, the only talk about raising revenue is fee increases for residents or one-time-only property sales totaling $36 million During the boom years, corporations and real estate businesses made billions but gave nothing back and even sued the City for more than $100 million dollars, while the numbers of homeless, medically uninsured, and poor rose. Now, as we enter bad times, people need City services more than ever, yet they are being cut. The time for downtown business to pay its share for City services is long overdue.

Healthworkers, health activists, and concerned residents will demonstrate against devastating budget cuts to City health services at 4:30 PM, Wednesday, April 23rd on the City Hall steps. Everyone is urged to come.

People should also speak up at the Board of Supervisors Budget Committee hearing on the Department of Public Health Budget, which will be held on Thursday, April 24th, from 4:00 to 7:00 PM, at the Joseph Lee Recreation Center, 1395 Mendell St., in the Bayview District near the intersection of 3rd St. and Oakdale.

For more information, call Michael Lyon at 415 215-7575.