VNA to see budget cuts

Organization unsure of implications on programs

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— The Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, like many public health agencies in the county and across the state, is bracing for looming state and federal cuts to its budget.

The organization stands to lose about $250,000 in state and federal funding.

But the VNA does not yet know the full implications of budget cuts to its ability to provide services to infants, children and the elderly in Northwest Colorado.

The Routt County Board of Commissioners agreed Monday to soften the financial blow by including $175,000 for the VNA in its proposed 2003 budget.

The county gave the VNA $134,000 in 2002.

State and federal cutbacks have intensified local agencies' and human service programs' need for help.

"We would not be here if the state and feds had not pulled the rug out from under us," VNA Director Sue Birch told the county commissioners.

VNA representatives could only speculate this summer about the effect of budget cuts on its programs, and county commissioners requested a better picture of the fiscal impact.

Birch and fiscal consultant Ed Anderson offered a clearer picture of the impact Monday.

"We've done everything in our power to run as lean as possible," Birch said.

But a tightened belt may not prevent the elimination of some public health services.

"We're not seeing that there is a lot (of money) there," Anderson said.

The VNA has identified several programs that could fold should it lack the means to fund them.

The list includes early periodic screening, diagnosis and treatment, prenatal services, well child and home-based care for the elderly.

Birch stressed none of the listed programs was in current danger of elimination. The VNA would continue to meet demand for its services as best it could because it does not want to see any of its programs go, she said.

Home-based care for the elderly allows senior citizens to stay in their homes.

"It's one of those programs that if we don't do it, it doesn't get done," Birch said.

The loss of such a program would send home care service clients to nursing homes.

Nursing homes, however, are nearing capacity in Routt County, so the elderly would have to look elsewhere for nursing home vacancies, Birch said.

"We're not inclined to go that direction because it shifts people out of this valley," she said.

Ending prenatal care would hurt the future of the community, County Manager Tom Sullivan said.

The county commissioners agreed giving the VNA $175,000 in 2003 only postponed the larger problem of funding public health services.

"The bigger picture seems to be, 'What happens next year?'" County Commissioner Doug Monger said.

The VNA tried to recover some of the state and federal cuts this year. But relief for public health services took a back seat in the U.S. Congress to homeland security and talk of war with Iraq, Birch said.

She urged residents to contact their representatives about the need to restore lost funding to public health agencies.

Responsibility for public health and human services is shifting from the federal government to local government, and local governments must decide if they are willing to shoulder the costs, she said.

"We're trying to hold the line : but it's been pretty darn difficult," Birch said.

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