CLINICS NEED HEALTHY BUDGET

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Two weeks ago, the City Council saved dozens of community health clinics from a looming shutdown. But one vital detail went unremarked among all the congratulations: A third of the clinics need serious surgery before they stand a chance of surviving.

After much protest from health activists, parents and politicians, the City Council voted on a budget on June 7 that included $1.5 million to save 27 beleaguered health clinics. Last month, the Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC) sought permission from the state to close these 27 health clinics, including 15 based in schools and nine serving children in their own neighborhoods. This new city funding, along with a $500,000 donation from the city’s Department of Health, is expected to cover a year of the clinics’ operating costs.

But eight of the nine child health clinics are in no condition to operate. They suffer from flooding and problems with heating and other structural issues that have kept them “temporarily” closed, some for up to two years. Absent additional money for repairs, HHC has said, some of these centers may not reopen, according to City Councilmember Victor Robles, chair of the council’s health committee. Explained Robles, “They’ve told me they will be asking the state to pull from the closure plan the 15 school-based clinics, but that they will be evaluating the other clinics before they’ll be telling the state what they’ll do.” Calls to HHC were not returned, but Robles says if the agency comes up with cost estimates for the repairs soon, he hopes to secure funding during budget modification talks this fall.

Even a second cash rescue by the Council may not be the magic bullet for some clinics, however. As Julie Hantman reports in the July issue of City Limits magazine, HHC under Mayor Giuliani has systematically disinvested in the child health clinics, discouraging many families from showing up.