AUBURN (Nov. 12, 2014) — Last summer, a major budget shortfall at Public Health — Seattle & King County due to declines in state and federal funding threatened to close four of county’s 10 public health clinics. Since then, many have been involved in the struggle to keep these clinics open, including city and county elected officials and high-level staff. But an important, largely untold story is the grassroots work of organized labor and community activists in this fight, and the sacrifices rank-and-file clinic staff are making to keep these clinics open.
When the proposed closures were announced, a new coalition called Communities 4 Public Health emerged to try save the clinics. It included former and current clients of public health, strong advocates from El Comite, as well as staff and rank-and-file members from Professional and Technical Employees Local 17 and the Washington State Nurses Association. Also supportive were numerous other labor partners, including Teamsters Local 117, UFCW Local 21, Firefighters Local 1352, and many others.
These activists put on red “These Cuts Can Kill” T-shirts and became a continuous presence on street corners and at meetings of school boards, city councils, and county budget committees. If these workers and their allies hadn’t brought this issue to the forefront, these clinics may have quietly closed, the staffs been laid off, and the health of our communities would have suffered. Instead, the passion and grassroots activism of Communities 4 Public Health raised the profile of this issue, inspiring elected leaders and local media to take notice and take action.
Those efforts are beginning to pay dividends.
Among the clinics slated for closure was the Auburn Public Health Center, which includes satellite offices in Enumclaw and the Muckleshoot Reservation and provides primarily maternity services, nutrition programs, and family planning for more than 10,000 clients, 97 percent of whom live below the federal poverty line. King County Executive Dow Constantine announced last week that funding partners from local cities, tribes, nonprofits and companies will help maintain services at the Auburn health clinic for the next two years.
Likewise, the Federal Way Public Health Center will stay open at least two more years thanks to a combination of wage concessions by frontline staff and a new partnership with the City of Federal Way.
“I want to thank the elected leaders in Federal Way and our selfless Public Health employees for helping us keep this clinic open,” Constantine said. “Saving this clinic demonstrates our shared commitment to providing critical services and overcoming the lack of state and federal funding.”
In partnership with the City of Seattle, the White Center—Greenbridge Public Health Center will also remain open but family planning services will be provided by Planned Parenthood rather than by Public Health.
A long-term funding solution for Public Health — Seattle & King County is long overdue. Its funding was slashed more than a decade ago after the state motor-vehicle excise tax was repealed. Since then, state and local revenue and patchwork grants have not kept pace with rising costs due to inflation and population growth. That revenue stream that was taken away years ago needs to be replaced so our communities are safe, healthy and prepared for emergencies like outbreaks of communicable disease. Plus, every dollar spent on preventive care saves the state several dollars on Medicaid and other social costs down the road.
In the meantime, the fight by Communities 4 Public Health to save clinics in King County is not over. All of the pending deals still must be approved by the County Council, and more importantly, funding is still needed to keep the Northshore/Bothell public health clinic — currently slated to close — open and fully operating. For more information or to get involved, please email Hanna Welander.