November 30, 2004

How County Will Spend Health Funds

After months of listening to testimony from health care providers, Alameda County health officials this week issued recommendations on tax-dollar spending for health services.

Voters passed Measure A, a countywide half-cent sales tax, in March that will raise about $90 million a year for health programs.

While 75 percent is earmarked for the Alameda County Medical Center, the remaining 25 percent of the funds will be divided at the discretion of the county Board of Supervisors.

At the board's request, county Health Services Agency Director Dave Kears issued recommendations on allocating the approximately $20 million:

$5 million for a community-based primary care provider network;

$4.5 million for uncompensated care at private hospitals;

$4.25 million for behavioral health, including $2 million for a detox center;

$3 million for public health prevention;

$1.5 million for private physicians who provide uncompensated care;

$1 million for school-based clinics;

$750,000 to, in part, expand health insurance to children.

Nearly 900 people attended 10 public hearings across the county on Measure A spending, Kears reported.

He acknowledged that there simply isn't enough money to go around for many worthy causes. "The attendance, diversity and eloquence of the testimony provided were heartening," he wrote in his report to the board.

Kears said some private hospitals made strong cases for financial support. Children's Hospital Oakland asked for $10 million to maintain outpatient pediatric services. St. Rose Hospital in Hayward asked for $6 million to stabilize its finances. And ValleyCare Health Systems in Pleasanton asked for $2.6 million to remodel and expand its emergency department.

Among the many other requests were for tobacco control, HIV/AIDS and mental health services.

The Alameda Health Consortium, a network of safety net clinics, including LifeLong Medical in Berkeley, will likely receive far less than the $8 million it requested.

Instead, the clinics will get $5 million in the current fiscal year if Kears' recommendations are approved.

The Board of Supervisors will vote on the recommendations Dec. 14.

Contact Rebecca Vesely at [email protected] .