Federal Way school board opposes Public Health closure

The Federal Way Public Schools board of education on Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution that officially opposes the closure of the King County-Seattle Public Health centers in Federal Way and Auburn.

The Federal Way Public Schools board of education on Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution that officially opposes the closure of the King County-Seattle Public Health centers in Federal Way and Auburn.

In a budget proposal to be adopted in November, Public Health officials axed funding for Public Health centers in Federal Way, Auburn, Bothell and White Center. The budget also calls for the centers in Columbia City and North Seattle to transfer their primary care services to other hospitals.

“This is consistent with our commitment to equity for all of our students and families in the community,” said Chris Willis, the director of Student Support Services with the district. “Because without King County Public Health in the area, primary care for services for women and children will go unmet.”

The prevention of diseases, such as tuberculosis, whooping cough and measles will go unmet with the end of the disease prevention program at the Federal Way Public Health Center, he said.

“We have a huge need here in Federal Way,” Willis said at the meeting, noting a 2012 Healthy Youth Survey found that schools within King County and Washington are over the state average in obesity rates, mental health problems and the use of alcohol and drugs.

Maternity Support Services and the WIC (Woman, Infant, Children) supplemental nutrition program will also be impacted.

Willis said the Federal Way Public Schools nurses might also be impacted because not only could they use these services, but they help connect these services to students and families.

“In the past three years, 30 students received at-home hospital tutoring due to having children at a young age,” he said, adding that he and his family are a part of the community in Federal Way.

Furthermore, transportation to the proposed remaining clinics in Renton, Kent, Bellevue and Seattle won’t be sufficient because of recent Metro cuts, he said.

The Federal Way Public Health Center currently serves approximately 13,700 people. Together, the Auburn and Federal Way clinics serve 24,000.

According to city of Federal Way officials, more than 90 percent of the clinic’s clientele have incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty line, 73 percent are people of color, 7 percent are homeless, 59 percent of family planning clients are uninsured, 20 percent of those who are pregnant and served by the maternity support services are involved with drugs or alcohol and 11 percent require an interpreter.

Federal Way Public Schools is the eighth-largest district in the state of Washington and serves 38 schools with more than 22,000 students. According to the district, 57.4 percent of students’ families live in or near the federal poverty level, a statistic based on the districts’ free and reduced lunch figures.

“In the world of birth to five, before kids enter school, there’s so much we can do to prevent things that keep them out of school once they get there,” said board member Claire Wilson. “If we are going to be doing the service we say we need to do, we cannot cut health services if we think ‘all children.’ We can’t think ‘all children’ without thinking medical, dental, mental health and all things that are wrapped into that.”

Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell said he appreciates the school board’s leadership in passing the resolution.

“Their concern underscores the widespread impact that would occur from cutting off services to the 13,700 low-income women served by the Federal Way Public Health clinic,” Ferrell wrote in an email. “The proposed closure would affect the women and their children and, in turn, it would affect Federal Way schools, South King Fire and Rescue, Saint Francis Hospital, Multi-Service Center and many other service providers. The ripple effect would be tremendous.”

Board president Carol Gregory said the district will ask to meet with King County Councilman Pete von Reichbauer, who represents south King County, for his support on their resolution.

King County Executive Dow Constantine is expected to recommend his own King County budget this fall.