How are budget cuts affecting health clinics?

February 17, 2011 4:48:11 PM PST
Cutting costs for health care in Houston not only means layoffs, but changes to clinics around town. We take a look at what cutbacks in the budget means for the city health department.

The clinics are still open. These aren't drastic changes, but they're the kind of small moves you might notice as government aims to do more with less.

We found Rosa Rios at La Nueva Casa de Amigos Health Center just north of downtown. She comes to the city clinic for free dental care.

"It's really good," said Rios.

This is one of six city of Houston health clinics giving 30,000 Houstonians immunizations, family planning, dental and preventive care.

"It is very busy," said Judy Harris, Assistant Director, Houston Health & Human Services.

In fact, it's so busy that Harris tells us they cannot take any new patients.

"I wouldn't say we're maxed out in terms of the demand, but we are maxed out in terms of our capacity," Harris said.

The wait time for an appointment is usually 14 days, but may get longer. In the city's budget squeeze, the department's been unable to fill 47 jobs since last year. That number, combined with the city furloughs this year, will force the clinics to close one day a month.

"They shouldn't do it," said another clinic-goer. "Because it benefits a lot of people that don't have money to pay for it."

But that's the tough choice the city is making though, and with more tough times to come, it may not be the last.

"It doesn't make me nervous, I think it makes us more creative," said Harris.

The wait time at one family planning clinic is as high as 54 days.

So is it going to get better? That's hard to tell, but the department does acknowledge it's going to lose at least a few more employees in the next year.

You can see all of Ted Oberg's "Budget on your Block" stories by clicking here.

On Eyewitness News at 6pm Friday, borrowing a book in Houston isn't as easy as it once was. More with less may work some places, but not when there's less access to libraries.