In a blow to low-income patients dependent on publicly funded medical care, four of eight Los Angeles County health centers in the San Fernando Valley will no longer offer family planning services, officials said Monday.
The reductions, prompted by cuts in state funding, will affect at least 2,500 women who will have to seek help at other, already overcrowded county programs or go without it, health care administrators said.
The four Valley centers--in Canoga Park, North Hollywood, Tujunga and Pacoima--are among 13 clinics countywide at which family planning services no longer will be available, prompting program directors to predict increases in unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.
"It's a vicious cycle," said Madi Huening, business office manager at the Canoga Park center.
Patients from the four centers will be referred to clinics in Burbank and Van Nuys, but health-care workers say the wait at those facilities already is long, and they fear new patients will be unable to get help.
"They're already into a three-month backlog," West Valley district health officer Lucia Carpenter said of the Van Nuys center. "It will be six months now."
Others predicted that the cuts will have a particularly harsh effect on teen-agers.
"What we have nationally is a teen-age pregnancy epidemic," said public health nurse Jean Heller, relief supervisor at the Pacoima health center. "The more barriers you put up to these gals . . . the more likely they are of getting pregnant."
The cuts, initially scheduled to take effect Nov. 1, will be phased in over the next month so that some centers can honor appointments made up to two months ago, before the reductions were announced.
Privately, some clinic workers say they will continue to see returning patients, squeezing them in wherever possible regardless of cuts in staff. New patients won't be as lucky. "They're going to have a hard time getting to us," said Melinda Anderson, chief executive officer for health centers in the northern part of the county.
Women seeking contraception and other family planning services at the Canoga Park center Monday seemed unaware of the pending cuts.
Five women squeezed onto a couch in a tiny room to hear nurse Julie Fournier talk about birth control. Ten more women waited their turn outside. Twenty-four had been seen earlier that morning.
Rosalinda Martinez cradled her 3-month-old baby in her arms and wondered how she will manage once the cuts are made. She has another child, 16 months old, and it will be difficult to take them both on the bus to Van Nuys, she said.
"The people who come here don't have enough money to pay," said a 35-year-old patient. "If you go to a private doctor, it's $50 plus the cost of the pills. It's going to be expensive for us. It's also going to be expensive for the government because some people don't know what to do, so they will have more children."
Heller agreed. "From a businessman's standpoint, do you want to shell out thousands of dollars later on instead of a few pennies now?"
She called the cuts unrealistic and sexist.
"If men had to have babies, we wouldn't have family planning cuts," she said.