Washington County Officials to Close Two Public Health Clinics

Community leaders fear negative impact, county contends it's for the best.

Despite community concerns, Washington County officials say a plan to close two public health clinics by the end of June will actually result in more people getting care.

The county’s board of commissioners approved Health and Human Services Director Marni Kuyl’s policy recommendation to transition out of direct clinical services and close the two health clinics in Beaverton and Hillsboro on February 24. Instead, the county will contract with local safety net providers for primary and preventative care.

County officials insist the move will mean 8,850 uninsured Washingtonians will have access to health care as opposed to the 6,071 now served by the two clinics.

“It’s a good time to look at how we’re contributing to improving access,” Kuyl said. “We think this is the more efficient and effective way to do that. More clients are going to receive services.”

But the decision to close the clinics caused a stir in the community and immediate fear that uninsured residents would lose access to care.

“The closure of these two clinics that we consider as a community asset would have an adverse effect on our community,” said Alberto Moreno, executive director for the Oregon Latino Health Coalition. “County health departments have a unique and singular public health responsibility we believe they are surrendering.”

One of Moreno’s main concerns is that the safety net providers do not have room for more patients.

“Their capacity is currently taxed without adding this additional burden. For the county to say, ‘oh we’re going to farm that out to these safety net clinics’ is really not a tenable solution for our communities.”

Medical facilities such as Virginia Garcia, Neighborhood Health Center, SW Community Health Center and Planned Parenthood have told county officials they do have capacity and are interested in providing the care.

Kuyl said the plan should be cost neutral for the county. The board will allocate $500,000 each year for at least five years to licensed and qualified healthcare providers that will provide primary care (3,500-4,000 patients) and preventive care (2,100) for the uninsured. An additional $293,000 in Title X funds will be passed through to a provider for reproductive health/family planning services for at least 3,000 patients (uninsured or underinsured) annually, according to documents provided by county officials.

But Moreno, who chairs the Commission on Hispanic Affairs, was not only concerned about the closure of these clinics. A comment that County Chairman Andy Duyk to The Oregonian also gave him pause.

Duyk said the county is committed to providing public health and safety services, such as dealing with communicable diseases for everyone, whether they are citizens or non-citizens. "But when it comes to general or overall health care, my focus is not on non-citizens."

Under federal law, Moreno said, the county has an obligation to provide services not only to “citizens” but to legally permanent residents as well.

“He was very pointed in his remarks, and I am concerned that he is allowing his personal value system to influence his responsibility as an elected official, as a county commissioner whose office is receiving federal funding to provide services to all those who call Washington County home,” Moreno told The Lund Report. “His comments seem to indicate to me a clear, present and active bias that this county chair is using to inform his policy decisions.”

Duyck declined to be interviewed, but sent the following statement to The Lund Report:

“Our job is to protect public health and prevent the spread of communicable diseases wherever we find them, regardless of race or legal status. Our move toward this new model of providing limited clinical services will improve access to a greater number of individuals who need it most.”

Kuyl believes a lot of misinformation has created fear about the clinics closing, saying the following services will remain or even be increased:

  • Tuberculosis/communicable disease and STD investigation and control (epidemiology)
  • Outbreak investigation, management and control
  • Community health needs assessment and health improvement planning
  • Chronic disease prevention
  • Maternal and child health services
  • Environmental health services
  • Assurance – helping people connect to services

The move to work with safety net providers also allows more people to receive primary care, a service the county clinics do not offer. “We couldn’t treat you if you were sick,” she said.

In his statement, Duyk pointed out in his statement that the demand for limited clinical services at county clinics has dropped in recent years. But, he added that the county understands this process isn’t easy. He said:

“It is important to note that transitions of this kind can be challenging. We have felt this stress in our county organization, but we know it has been shared by our healthcare partners and most importantly by the clinic patients we are all trying to serve. The board has made clear that we support the Department of Health and Human Services’ work – in partnership with our healthcare providers – to make this transition as smooth as possible, to carefully monitor service delivery and healthcare outcomes throughout the community and to keep open channels of communication throughout the process.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION

To learn more about the closure of Washington County clinics, click here.

Shelby can be contacted at [email protected].

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