Friday, September 5, 2014

Valley loses low-cost family planning

South Central Health District closes Bellevue clinic

Express Staff Writer

Due to anticipated termination of family-planning services at the South Central Health District office in Bellevue, Wood River Valley residents will have to travel to a Planned Parenthood clinic in Twin Falls to obtain low-cost contraceptives.
    On July 22, the district announced that it was discontinuing family-planning services at its Twin Falls clinic due to its loss of a $188,000 Title X reproductive health grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The competitive grant went to Planned Parenthood instead.
    The district stated that it would continue to offer family-planning services at its offices in Bellevue, Jerome and Burley, which remained eligible for the grants.
    However, district Director Rene LeBlanc stated in a letter sent to the district’s clients yesterday that those services would be ended at the other three offices on Sept. 30. The letter stated that the service was terminated due to loss of the physician’s assistant who provided them.
    In an interview, district spokesman Jeff Pierson said the district has been unable to hire a replacement, despite extensive advertising done to find one.
    “We can’t find somebody willing to work for what the state will pay,” he said.
    Pierson said the pay scale is the same throughout the state’s seven health districts, but there are fewer physician’s assistants relative to the number of jobs available in the South Central district. He said recruiting employees from other states is difficult because unlike many states, Idaho does not have a school loan repayment program.
    The federal Title X money is distributed through the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, which contracts for services with the health districts. Pierson said those contracts were presented to the districts on Aug. 20, but the South Central district still did not have a replacement.
     Department spokesman Tom Shanahan said those involved hope to have a solution in about two weeks, but he said no more information is available at this time.
    Blaine County Commissioner and Health District board member Angenie McCleary said she cast the lone vote on the board against terminating the contract, though she admitted that without a physician’s assistant to provide the service, her vote was mainly symbolic.
    “By the time it was brought to our board to vote on it, there was no alternative,” she said. “There are always options available, but nothing was ever brought to us. It’s such an important program that I thought more would be done to ensure that we kept the contract.”
    McCleary said 437 people in Blaine County were served by the health district’s family-planning services last year.
    Under a formula based on population and assessed property value, Blaine County paid $238,000 to the district in fiscal year 2014.
    “We pay a lot more money per capita than any other county,” McCleary said. “We need to get some kind of service, and this is a huge blow.”
    McCleary said she had already felt frustrated by the fact that the physician’s assistant spent so much time in the mornings and late afternoons traveling between the Bellevue, Jerome and Burley offices to provide family-planning services.
    “I’d already been receiving complaints that during what had been our busiest hours of service, we no longer had service,” she said.

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