The county’s Board of Health put off deciding Wednesday how to carry out a $1.6 million cut in federal funds, which led to a tense exchange with the health director.
Board members asked for more information from the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department to adjust alternatives that would prevent several family support centers from closing. Board Chairman Stan Flemming said the board will meet in a week to make a final decision.
Things got testy after that.
Health Department director Anthony L-T Chen said he was ready to make suggested changes for the board to vote Wednesday.
“I just want to know at what point you’re ready to take a vote,” Chen said.
He told the board putting off the cuts is costing the department money – about $200,000 a month.
“We need to move forward,” Chen said. “If I could meet those requests right now, would the board vote on it?”
“Dr. Chen, let me be very clear,” Flemming responded. He reiterated the board’s requests to readjust the proposed cuts for several programs and for other information.
Then, board member Rick Talbert spoke out.
“I’m highly disappointed, I think, in the tone and attitude from the health director,” Talbert said. “The board will make a decision when its ready, not when you’re ready for us to make that decision.”
The board is finalizing plans to make cuts in several areas – including smoking in public places enforcement – to reduce the number of family support centers that could be closed from five to one. There are currently 12 centers which connect low-income people with parenting services, home nurse visits and other resources.
The $1.6 million cutback is due to a change in a funding formula for the Medicaid administrative match, not related to cutbacks prompted by the congressional sequester.
When the board was informed of the cut, “the expectation of the department appeared to be that we would rubber-stamp the presentation or the solution that you had brought forward,” Talbert said to Chen. “Now it took, unfortunately, a great deal of effort to actually slow that process down and get to the process that we are involved in today.”
“If this is inconvenient for you, that’s too bad,” Talbert said. “We are going to make a decision when we’re ready to make a decision.”
The board then tabled making that decision until next Wednesday.