The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

February 19, 2011

Health department is working through hard economic times

By Cass Rains, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID — State budget cuts may not affect the number of services offered through Garfield County Health Department, but some of those once free may now cost residents.

Annette O’Connor, interim administrative director of Garfield County Health Department, said the cuts have not affected the number of services being offered in the county but instead all departments are being asked to examine “cost savings.”

“One thing that’s new for public health is for us to start charging for the services we provide,” O’Connor said. “In years past, immunization and flu shots were free.”

She said the department began charging for flu shots last year, and the state department is looking everywhere to see what needs to be done to recover costs, such as private pay or insurance company, Medicaid or Medicare reimbursements.

She said not everyone will be asked to pay, and costs are figured on a sliding scale that weighs factors such as income and the number of members in a family.

“Children for routine immunization are covered by the Federal Vaccine for Children program,” she said. “It isn’t as drastic as it sounds.”

She said most adults, those 19 to 64, needing vaccinations for travel will be charged for the service.

O’Connor said the department also is delaying filling positions that become vacant. She said directors, such as herself, are asked to cover larger areas, and other positions are not being filled as soon as they are vacated.

Another cost-saving measure is having employees travel in state vehicles.

“State vehicles are new for us,” O’Connor said. “We have a lot of new vehicles in Garfield County.”

Typically, employees drive private vehicles for home visitations or inspections and then are reimbursed through the state for mileage.

Depending on the next budget cycle and cuts that are made, O’Connor said some services might have to be cut.

“They’re looking at some of the child abuse prevention programs, those contracted at the state level,” she said. “I think, unfortunately, that’s the area they’ve chosen to reduce costs in, depending on how deep of a cut they received.”

She said departments want to continue offering all the “primary services” possible.

“We’re looking at all options and trying to do what we can to keep all of our primary services going,” O’Connor said. “That’s really what has happened to us over the least year or so.”