The Federal Way City Council received a standing ovation at Tuesday’s council meeting after they unanimously voted to spend $221,000 toward the Federal Way Public Health Center’s operating costs for 2015.
Seattle-King County Public Health officials announced back in spring that four health clinics, Federal Way and Auburn centers included, could close come 2015 because of a lack of state and federal funding. The funding gap to keep the Federal Way clinic open is about $1.5 million in the county’s biennial budget, or $750,000 a year.
Council vote on the one-time expenditure — which will cover 30 percent of the operating costs to keep the Federal Way center open another year — with a tentative deal that King County will cover the remaining 70 percent, pending labor agreements, said Mayor Jim Ferrell earlier this week.
Several community members, said to be nurses in Public Health, attended the meeting and thanked the Council for their efforts.
Hanna Welander said during the public comment portion of the meeting that she and her colleagues have gone out during their lunch hours, attended city council meetings in the evening and sought signatures on a petition during the weekend at farmers markets and city fairs to ensure the Public Health Centers stay open.
Earlier last week, 2,900 signatures were delivered to King County Executive Dow Constantine, she said.
Additionally, she said the nurses have agreed to freeze their wages next year in order to save the services.
“It isn’t about the jobs,” she said.
Welander was joined by Denise Cobden, Amy Vince Cruz and Lori Ginther-Hutt who echoed the same need for keeping the clinic open.
And one recipient of Public Health also addressed the Council.
“My husband and I have always had good jobs, worked hard for our family,” Janina Schmidt said. “But three years ago, my husband’s work dwindled and I was let go from my job.”
After Schmidt got pregnant and noticed her baby “failed to thrive,” she utilized the services, which provided her with a nurse who periodically checked in on the family.
“Now, we’re blessed to have a son and he’s thriving,” she said. “It’s a wonderful program and I am doing well compared to some I represent here, speaking tonight.”
Several Council members and the mayor recognized and thanked the efforts of the “ladies and men in red” and pointed out that this issue may not have gotten the attention it did without their support.
“In my time on the Council, I don’t think I’ve seen an issue generate such widespread support as this one has for moving this issue forward on behalf of the citizens that have a need for this service,” said Councilman Bob Celski. “It’s just so nice to see a strong effort by the community coming together to keep this clinic open.”
Before the Council voted on the expenditure, Councilwoman Kelly Maloney said she’d like to see an equitable distribution of costs across all of the municipalities that benefit from public health in the long term plan.
Councilwoman Susan Honda, a former registered nurse, thanked South King Fire and Rescue and the Federal Way Public Schools Board of Education for passing resolutions in support of keeping the health center open.
And Councilwoman Lydia Assefa-Dawson expressed hope that the support continues and not “lose momentum” after this temporary solution, which the executive’s office and the mayor have both said they are committed to working through.
King County officials have proposed impacts to the North Seattle Public Health Center and the Columbia center, with clinic closures in Bothell, White Center/Greenbridge, Auburn and Federal Way. Centers in downtown Seattle, Bellevue, Renton and two in Kent will remain open.
According to city officials, more than 90 percent of the Federal Way clinic’s 13,700 clients have incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty line. For example, a family of four making $23,850 or less is considered below 200 percent of the poverty line, or a family of six, $31,970, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
In addition, 73 percent are people of color, 7 percent are homeless, 59 percent of family planning patients are uninsured, 20 percent of those who are pregnant served by the maternity support services are involved in drugs or alcohol and 11 percent require an interpreter.
Constantine is expected to propose his budget to the King County Council on Sept. 22.
For more information about Seattle-King County Public Health, visit www.kingcounty.gov/healthservices/health/budget.aspx.