Poulsbo health district office faces closure from funding cuts

POULSBO — North End residents utilizing services offered by the Kitsap County Health District office in Poulsbo may soon have to travel as far as Bremerton to meet their medical needs.

POULSBO — North End residents utilizing services offered by the Kitsap County Health District office in Poulsbo may soon have to travel as far as Bremerton to meet their medical needs.

As the KCHD faces $206,000 in budget shortfalls, program cuts are becoming imminent.

“Public health funding is in a crisis,” said KCHD director Scott Lindquist. “The public has to understand, they are going to see service cuts. That is a reality of the funding we’re in now.”

The KCHD Poulsbo office is currently open 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays. Patients pay on a sliding fee scale, and no one is turned away based on inability to pay. In 2006, there were 1,443 clinic visits, said KCHD community health director Suzanne Plemmons.

The office offers immunizations, family planning services and food handlers’ classes, and costs $80,000 each year to run. The city of Poulsbo pays for just $12,000 of that, and the funds to cover the difference simply aren’t available, Lindquist said. Rising salary and health care benefits costs have left the health system financially wanting as the state hasn’t updated it’s funding in nearly a decade, he said.

Poulsbo Mayor Kathryn Quade, a member of the KCHD board, said she is looking for ways to keep the office open, and is gathering any information she can that will help her do so.

The Poulsbo KCHD office was first slated for an Oct. 1 shutdown, but its closure was stayed after an Aug. 20 special Board of Health meeting. The board will meet Sept. 11 to again address the issue, and if funding is not found, the office will be closed Nov. 1. Other cuts, including the dissolution of a sexually transmitted disease outreach program and an injury and suicide prevention program staffing reduction, will take effect Oct. 1.

Port Orchard and Bainbridge Island KCHD district offices have also been closed in recent years, leaving Poulsbo’s office the last one remaining aside from Bremerton’s, which is a major reason why it is so necessary, Quade said.

“It’s the only service like that in the North End,” she said.

Quade will talk to county commissioners and the Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority to see if, in conjunction with the KCHD, the agencies can find a way to keep the office open. If not, she said she’ll work with the KCHD to provide health services for residents without using office space, and won’t settle for anything less.

“We could still provide services even without an official office,” she said. “That would be the least I would want to provide.”

Lindquist listed moving the KCHD public health nurse to a station in Poulsbo’s City Hall or Olympic College as options that could allow local residents to continue to receive health assistance.

“These are just ideas,” he said. “We could integrate these services into the community rather than paying for a building.”

Either way, family planning services will most likely move to Bremerton. Getting there from Poulsbo via bus is “doable, but it isn’t convenient,” Lindquist said, as it takes two buses and about an hour in transportation time.

Quade too said traveling to Bremerton isn’t easy, and asserted she would like the KCHD Poulsbo office’s services to be more widely advertised. An increase in its visitors could help it’s cause, she said.

The Poulsbo KCHD office saw 3,389 visits in 2001, nearly 2,000 more than 2006. Plemmons said the decreased usage is one of the factors the office is now facing closure, despite the fact many still find it helpful. Of it’s 1,443 visits in 2006, 707 were immunizations, most of them for kids.

“The clinic services are, we know, important to those people,” Plemmons said. “We will make sure we assist our clients in transition. We’re certainly concerned also.”