Photo by Bridget Manley
Medical Assistant Dawna Brewer prepares flu shots Monday at the Northwest Colorado Community Health Center, located in the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association in Craig. On Monday, VNA officials requested an additional $131,000 from the county to help fund the Health Center and its public health and home and community-based services.
The Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association is asking the county for additional money in the face of state unfunded mandates and emerging health trends.
VNA officials met Monday with the Moffat County Commission to request $131,000 in supplemental funding to support an assortment of the agency's programs and services.
Making sure the VNA's services, especially to the underinsured and the uninsured, is essential, health care officials stressed.
"This county has a health care crisis," said Sue Birch, VNA chief executive officer, at the meeting. "No doubt about it.
"We do not have enough personnel to meet the need."
Birch pointed to overextended medical staff and swelling patient numbers in an attempt to convince commissioners to temporarily increase their allotment to the VNA.
About $50,000 of the requested sum would be allotted to the Northwest Colorado Community Health Center, which is operated in the VNA building and provides primary care to uninsured and underinsured patients.
The remaining $81,000 would support the agency's programs for public health and home and community-based services.
On average, the Health Center sees about 200 new patients monthly, said Cole White, VNA director of operations.
About 96 percent of the Health Center's patients pay on a sliding fee scale, which determines their bill on patients' income and number of people in their family.
The federally qualified Health Center is scheduled to receive about $1.8 million in the next three years from the Department of Health and Human Services.
But state and federal reimbursement for services to patients on Medicare and Medicaid, which could help cover start-up costs at the clinic, have been slow coming in, Birch said.
The Health Center also has unfunded government mandates to contend with.
It is required to provide services through its women's health and family planning programs, but the state doesn't provide funding to cover all costs incurred by these services.
Recent health trends have only compounded the VNA's funding problem.
"We have an extraordinarily high incidence of sexually transmitted diseases," Birch said after the meeting, adding that unplanned pregnancies also are a concern for the agency.
Ideally, the Health Center is expected to start generating cash flow in three years.
But VNA officials predict the Health Center will have a $52,000 deficit by the end of its current fiscal cycle.
"We are dangerously lean with everything we've taken on," Birch said, " and we're trying to stay afloat in these tough times."
The commission recently increased its 2009 allotment to the VNA from $122,275 to about $180,000, County Budget Analyst Tinneal Gerber said. The increase will offset anticipated rent increases. The VNA rents its building from The Memorial Hospital.
The additional funds would not be used to support VNA programs, Birch said, adding that the agency is awaiting a finalized lease agreement from the hospital.
County commissioners Tom Gray, Tom Mathers and Audrey Danner said they would consider the VNA's request, but declined to say whether they were in favor of the measure.
However, Gray reminded Birch and White that the VNA isn't the only local agency asking for county money in hard financial times.
"The scramble is on to get money, and it's going to get worse," he said, adding that deciding which entities should receive additional funding "is a hard call to make."
The commission is scheduled to vote on the VNA's funding request today.
Bridget Manley can be reached at 875-1795 or firstname.lastname@example.org