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Departments Say Cuts Won’t Affect Dealings With Public

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Facing as much as $2.9 million in budget cuts, Ventura County’s health care and social services officials say they can make the reductions by trimming administrative costs, rather than cutting direct services to the public.

“Things will be tighter and more difficult, but protecting public services is our No. 1 priority,” Pierre Durand, director of the county Health Care Agency, told the Board of Supervisors at a hearing Thursday.

Under the preliminary budget plan for his agency, Durand said mental health services would be cut by $1 million and the Ventura County Medical Center by $900,000.

To help offset the cuts in mental health, Durand has proposed eliminating four management positions and transferring three patient beds reserved at Camarillo State Hospital to La Posada, a new housing complex for mentally ill adults located nearby. This would leave the county with 16 beds at Camarillo.

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“We feel La Posada is an excellent backup for us,” he said, noting that the beds being transferred are presently vacant. “By going to La Posada, it will save us overall about $600,000.”

Supervisor Maggie Kildee questioned Durand about whether mental health was being asked to take a disproportionate share of the proposed cuts. The county mental health budget was cut $1.9 million last year, the largest of any department.

Durand said most of the reductions in mental health are being driven by increased competition from private managed-care providers. He also pointed out that other departments within the Health Care Agency have also seen significant cuts over the last 10 years.

“We are not keying in on any particular department or function,” he said. “We are consolidating administrative overhead wherever we can without reducing service to the public.”

Although as many as 20 employees throughout the Health Care Agency could lose their jobs under the proposed cuts, Durand said the number is more likely to be five or six because of some savings and reorganization within the agency.

Durand told the board that county hospital is expected to save about $400,000 in the next fiscal year because of a new managed-care license it recently received from the state. That license to create an HMO will allow the county to keep a lid on health care costs for the 2,700 employees now enrolled in its insurance program.

With the license, Durand said, the county will be able to place a cap on the money paid to contract physicians by establishing a reimbursement plan based on the number of patients seen. Under the present system, the county pays doctors a fee for every service provided to the public.

Meanwhile, James Isom, director of Public Social Services, said his department has already offset nearly half of its proposed cut of $988,000 through some reorganization and renegotiated service contracts.

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The remainder of the cuts would come from reductions in administration, “so the public will not notice any cuts that have been made,” Isom said.

As many as 25 people could be laid off, he said, but the actual number would probably be far less--or perhaps none at all--because of the possibility of job transfers or the filling of some vacant positions.

“I take pride in the fact that we’ve always been able to find work for people,” he said.


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