State cuts funding to school health clinics

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LEWISTON — Student services at school-based clinics in Lewiston and Auburn, and across the state, will be dramatically reduced when school opens this fall, officials said Wednesday.

A cut in the Fund for Healthy Maine made by the Department of Health and Human Services means that “100 percent of the grant funding” for school health centers has been eliminated, said Joan Churchill of St. Mary’s Community Clinical Services.

St. Mary’s provides health clinic services at four Lewiston-Auburn schools: Lewiston High School, Edward Little High School, Lewiston Middle School and Auburn Middle School.

The grant money from the state for the four schools amounted to $200,000 a year, about 30 percent of the school clinic’s budgets, Churchill said. The rest of the costs are largely covered by families’ health insurance. Families without health care coverage aren’t charged.

It’s too early to know what kind of services will disappear. “We’re still running the numbers,” Churchill said. “It’s awful.”

She suspects that medical care will likely go away; behavioral health services will be provided but reduced. Already counselors “are booked with waiting lists,” she said.

Last year between one and three counselors worked at each of the four school’s clinics, plus two full-time nurse practitioners.

St. Mary’s was notified Friday that DHHS had to deal with $5 million taken out of Funds for Healthy Maine to pay for other programs, Churchill said. “They decided one of the ways was to eliminate all the school-based health grants. It’s kind of hard to believe.”

State Sen. Nate Libby, D-Lewiston, said state legislators were not involved in the decision and are just learning about the cuts.

“The impact to students is going to be devastating,” Libby said. “The decision made by the LePage administration continues to be infuriating. This is a major policy change that should have been vetted through a public process. To my knowledge, that has not occurred.”

The local delegation is talking about the cuts, preparing inquiries to the administration, talking to legislative leaders “to try to get a handle on the budget process and that could lead to action steps.”

Part of the difficulty is with commissioners and officials in the LePage administration, Libby said. “You need to know what questions to ask. They will not give you anything more.”

Senate Republicans on Wednesday seemed to be unaware of the cut. Spokesman James Cyr said Senate President Michael Thibodeau wasn’t available, and the office had no comment.

Meanwhile, a DHHS statement given to the Sun Journal said the department “is acting under the directive of the Legislature.”

As a result of the recent state budget, DHHS was directed to cut $5 million from the Fund for Healthy Maine. That will mean significant changes to some programs, including school-based health centers, mass-reach health communications and pharmacy benefits of nicotine replacement therapy.

DHHS said it avoided making across-the-board cuts in all programs, and that contracts “held whole” include substance-use prevention, tobacco prevention, obesity prevention and positive youth engagement.

Lewiston-Auburn school superintendents said the schools will still have nurses, but the cuts “will be a loss to students and families,” especially those without health care insurance and primary care doctors, said Auburn Superintendent Katy Grondin.

The clinics supported school nurses. “It was a nice partnership right in the school that’s going to be a loss,” Grondin said.

Lewiston Superintendent Bill Webster said he’s waiting to learn what the cuts will mean for his schools.

“One of the great things of the school health clinics is ongoing medical support, particularly behavior and mental health,” Webster said.

For students with behavioral and mental health problems, the help “is so critical,” Webster said. “The availability of somebody to have an appointment during the school day is significant for many of our students.”

Oxford schools have health centers at the middle and high schools run by Western Maine Health through Stephens Memorial Hospital.

Program directors were not available Wednesday to react to the cuts.

 

LePage: Maine surplus growing

AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage announced Wednesday in a news release that the state concluded the fiscal year 2017, which ended June 30, with an unappropriated surplus of $110.9 million.

According to the release, commitments from this balance went to:

  • $57.1 million carried forward as part of FY18 budget; 
  • $350,000 to restore the governor’s contingent account;
  • $1 million to the Loan Insurance Reserve Fund;
  • $2.5 million to the reserve for General Fund Operating Capital; and 
  • $4 million to reduce the Unfunded Actuarial Liability in the Retiree Health Insurance Fund.

In addition, State Controller Doug Cotnoir issued final priority reserve transfers to the Maine Budget Stabilization Fund and Tax Relief Fund for Maine residents. The funds received transfers of $36.8 million and $9.2 million, respectively.

The current balance of the Budget Stabilization Fund is $196.3 million, the Reserve for Tax Relief is $9.4 million, and the Reserve for Operating Capital has a balance of $12.4 million. In all, the state carries financial reserves of $218.1 million into the new fiscal year.

“It is vital for the state of Maine to continue growing the balance of our Budget Stabilization Fund,” LePage said in the release. 

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