06/02/06 — County continues budget work; more funding needed in several areas

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County continues budget work; more funding needed in several areas

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on June 2, 2006 1:52 PM

Wayne County could be in violation of state law if it doesn't properly fund the operations of several county departments, managers of those departments told county commissioners Thursday at a budget work session.

The state requires the Health Department and Department of Social Services to provide certain services, or face penalties, said county Health Department Director Dr. Jim Roosen and Social Services Director Judy Pelt.

Other department heads also told commissioners that they could not properly carry out their duties without an increase in funding.

The commissioners are trying to craft a budget for 2006-07 without having to increase the tax rate. They have until the end of the month to have a budget in place. They raised taxes last year by 7.5 cents per $100 worth of property.

The health department needs another nurse, Roosen said. In April, Roosen said, the department had to turn away 17 people with sexually transmitted diseases because there weren't enough nurses to see them. If a patient with an STD is turned away at the office, the department is required by state law to guarantee to care for the patient within 24 hours.

"We can't even promise that and that's against state mandates," he said.

Wayne County's gonorrhea and chlamydia rates are higher than the state average and the county ranks 20th out of 100 counties for residents testing positive for HIV, Roosen said.

Another problem with turning away patients with an STD is that, if the disease goes untreated, it is easier for that patient to contract HIV, he said.

The health department is obligated to provide medicine and counseling for any patient, including those with an STD. The department is also required to contact any former partners of a patient that contracted an STD, Roosen said.

The health department needs an additional nurse, which would cost about $40,000, he said.

"Nurses are hard to come by and they're the backbone of our system," Roosen said.

A new nurse would help ease the burden of the other nurses, he said.

"We have 383 patients a month with tuberculosis. That's too much for two nurses," Roosen said.

He added that caring for tuberculosis patients is a "labor-intensive program," because, if someone comes in contact with a carrier, that person would also require treatment.

Roosen said this is the first time he has asked the commissioners for a new position, but the public and his department can't afford to function without another nurse for too much longer.

The county's Department of Social Services lost 11 positions in the past fiscal year due to attrition, which has increased the work load for the remaining employees, Director Judy Pelt said. So, she said she would like to reinstate five positions and add three new jobs to her department.

"Our foster care workers look over 26 children each. That is too many. Workers can't provide the services they need to and that puts us out of state regulations," Mrs. Pelt said.

The county would pay a portion of each position's salary, Mrs. Pelt said, which would cost a total of about $95,000. The positions are: child support agents, social workers, foster care workers, an income maintenance case worker and a Medicaid counselor.

Mrs. Pelt said these positions need to be reinstated and filled, because the department's workload will only get bigger.

"Adult services will be a big part of this county in the coming years. Baby boomers make up 28 percent of our population, with some of the first ones turning 65," she said.

Other department managers also made their pleas for more money.

Wayne County Library Director Jane Rustin said her department has asked for an additional $96,000 to hire a part-time employee and to increase salaries. Library salaries lag behind those in other departments, she said, especially for entry-level positions.

Phyllis Hill, with Wayne Initiative for School Health, said the school-based health program was able to acquire grants to begin caring for schoolchildren, but the program needs to begin finding funds from other sources.

The program recently expanded to Southern Wayne High School, where it provides comprehensive health care for students, including physical exams, Mrs. Hill said. To accommodate recent expansions at the county's high schools, she said the program needs $125,000 to hire more health care professionals.

Dr. Clark Gaither, director of the Wayne Action Team for Community Health, said even with the $50,000 that has been recommended by county officials for the program, it would still need another $177,000 for the coming year.

"We don't anticipate an increase in our request next year. It's just this year, because our grants have dried up," Gaither said.

The program began with the help of $2.5 million in state and federal grants, but those sources have dried up, he said. And the program's employees haven't had any luck finding additional sources of funds.

"We have a grant writer searching up and down for anything to keep our operations up and running," Dr. Gaither said.

Commissioner Atlas Price said the board would take all budget recommendations under consideration, but determining the budget has been a difficult task because state-mandated programs, such as Medicare, take up such a large portion of the budget.

"We know you have needs, but we don't have the funds to do anything. I'm not saying we don't want to help, we just don't have the funds at this point," Commissioner Andy Anderson said.