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County Finds Money to Save 3 Endangered Health Services : Budget: Infant-care, venereal disease and refugee programs are reprieved when officials come up with $700,000 to run them.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Infant-care clinics and programs dealing with refugee health and follow-up care for venereal disease, threatened with cuts, have won a reprieve.

County officials said Friday that they have found the money to run them after all.

County administrative officers now say they have the $700,000 that these programs require. And they are asking the Board of Supervisors to cancel a special Sept. 17 hearing that would have led to them being cut.

Budget director Ronald S. Rubino said recent lobbying by more than 30 groups had nothing to do with the decision. Rather, Rubino said, the Board of Supervisors in August made large cuts in health care: $3.5 million, or 8.4% of that budget.

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“After we added up all our numbers” from the county’s final $3.7-billion budget approved Aug. 27, “this additional cut did not seem to be necessary,” Rubino said. But Chauncey Alexander, chairman of the United Way Health Care Task Force, suggested that the reasons had more to do with politics than money.

“They decided there was a lot of pressure that they didn’t need,” said a jubilant Alexander, who has been marshaling opposition to cutting the programs.

Still Alexander--and a wide range of health leaders--called the decision to retain the three health programs “good news.” “Every one of them was a significant service” for the poor, he said.

The programs and jobs no longer threatened include:

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* Twenty-three of 82 child health clinics around the county. They were recommended for closure, and four staff positions and $239,827 were to be cut. Serving 3,000 children, the 23 clinics offer free checkups and immunizations for newborns to children through age 6--a preventive health program which has often been a poor family’s only contact with pediatric care. If they were closed, county officials predicted waits of up to 14 weeks for a first appointment, and an Orange County Medical Assn. leader warned that indigent families without cars might never find their way to the remaining clinics.

* The county’s International Immigrant and Refugee Assistance Program. This 12-year-old project was to have been eliminated along with all 12 interpreter jobs and its entire $322,397 budget. The program has provided interpreters who speak fluent Hmong, Cambodian, Thai and other Asian languages to help refugees in the county’s 250,000-member Asian community obtain health and social services. Without the service, Asian leaders claimed that new immigrants might have no access to health care.

* The county’s sexually transmitted disease clinic was to lose three staff positions and $132,557. Though AIDS cases were not expected to be affected, the move would have created longer waits for those with venereal disease. Also, 6,000 patients with less severe infections were to be asked to find follow-up care elsewhere.

County officials expressed delight that the cuts probably would not be made.

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“It’s so wonderful that we don’t have to talk cuts!” said Health Care Agency director Tom Uram.

Len Foster, director of maternal and child health, said: “We’re going to see well babies at those 23 locations and we’ll see some sick babies at those 23 locations. . . . It’s important for individual patients who rely on these clinics as their only source of pediatric care.”

Supervisor Harriett M. Wieder, chairwoman of the county’s health task force, said she was pleased. Still, she added: “These programs were important, but so were a lot of programs cut. I’m still upset that the Commission on the Status of Women was eradicated” in August budget cuts. Also, noting a recommendation by the county administrative officer that the refugee-assistance program “work with the community” for interpreter services, she added: “We’re buying a year’s time. What we’re saying to refugees in our community, some of whom have been here over a decade, they should help themselves and not rely on tax dollars.”

That brief suggestion did not sit well with refugee leaders.

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“We’re still concerned,” said Alan Woo, vice president of the Asian American Planning Council, which includes Cambodian, Thai, Japanese and seven other Asian social-service agencies.

“The county’s got to realize this community is growing,” Woo said. “We still believe (interpreter services) needs to be a county responsibility.”

The recommendation against cutting the three health programs came as opponents of the cuts were just gathering strength.

In addition to meeting individually with supervisors, Alexander’s Health Care Task Force met Thursday in Irvine to map strategy for contesting the cuts at the Sept. 17 hearing.

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Among the groups represented, Alexander said, were the March of Dimes, League of Women Voters, Hospital Council of Southern California, Orange County Chamber of Commerce, Korean-American Organization and Santa Ana’s Cambodian Family Agency.

On Friday morning, Rubino’s staff reportedly met with health-care officials and aides to supervisors to explain that they would no longer be recommending the health cuts.

To avert a deficit, the Board of Supervisors in August had cut $20.8 million, trimming dozens of programs and cutting 260 jobs.

But now, “because we made those other cuts, we’ve come to the conclusion we can stop,” Rubino said. “This is a huge budget with thousands of pieces and now all the pieces are there. We added it up. And we’ve reached our budget.”

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