King County health department faces layoffs, cuts to maternity program

King County announced Jan. 13 that state budget cuts could cause reductions in services for low-income moms and their babies — including thousands in Federal Way — and layoffs of up to 123 county health department employees.

The layoffs and cuts to the Medicaid-supported maternity support services program will happen on March 1, unless the state restores funding to the program, county officials said.

The county claims it will need to cut its maternity support services program in response to 50 percent reduced funding because of state cuts.

The maternity program is supported by Medicaid and “provides critical support to at-risk mothers, helping babies start healthy by reducing low birth weights,” according to the county.

In December, $76 million was cut from the state Department of Social and Health Services medical assistance budget. These funds, in part, go toward maternity assistance.

Passed Dec. 11, the bill implementing state budget cuts reads in regards to maternity services: “The department shall target funding for maternity support services toward pregnant women with factors that lead to higher rates of poor birth outcomes, including hypertension, a preterm or low birth weight birth in the most recent previous birth, a cognitive deficit or developmental disability, substance abuse, severe mental illness, unhealthy weight or failure to gain weight, tobacco use, or African American or Native American race.”

According to King County, 3,375 Federal Way clients receive maternity support services at multiple local locations, including the Federal Way Public Health Center, HealthPoint and Planned Parenthood.

On Jan. 13, the county health department sent layoff notices to 123 employees. The notices give employees 45 days warning that they will be laid off. However, the layoff notices may be reversed before 45 days is up.

Countywide, the maternity support services program serves some 30,000 clients.

The department could not specify exactly how many employees in Federal Way may be affected. Spokeswoman Hilary Karasz said the department does not yet know the rules on implementing the cuts.

“The bottom line is, we don’t know exactly what the rules for the remaining (maternity support services) services will be,” she said in an email. “If you make a 50 percent cut, you can provide 50 percent fewer services to the same amount of women and babies, or you can cut 50 percent of the people who would have received services.”

The job cuts include 87 service staff, such as nurses and social workers, plus several dental specialists, who are outside of the maternity program; 24 support staff, including service representatives; and 12 staff, including an IT worker, a finance worker and nurse supervisors. The cuts also include leaving nine positions vacant.

Spokesman James Apa said the department will work over the next 45 days with lawmakers in Olympia to work something out.

“It’s a true crisis at the state,” he said. “Even at this late hour, we’re engaging with the Legislature to ask them to look at other efficiencies that they can put into place that might save some more money and to be able to reduce the level of cuts.”

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