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Budget bites

Visiting Nurse Association looks for county funds to survive federal, state cuts

Josh Nichols

The director of a local health organization says state and federal budget cuts must stop if the group is going to keep serving residents of Northwest Colorado.

Sue Birch, executive director of the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, said a $150,000 federal budget cut scheduled to take effect Oct. 1 is just one of many cuts the organization has experienced in recent years.

“We can survive as is but if we keep getting these cuts we will have to close our doors in two to three years,” Birch told the Moffat County commissioners during a budget workshop Tuesday.

The $150,000 cut, which is just12 days away, stems from The Balanced Budget Act of 1997. The act cuts Medicare home health reimbursement 15 percent every year for five years.

Kelly Brady, spokesperson for U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., said some legislation has been approved in past years lessening the impact of the Balanced Budget Act, and said Allard is working with other senators to lessen the impact this year.

She said Allard signed a letter this month written to the Finance Committee encouraging it to increase Medicare reimbursements for rural home health care by $10 billion.

“Hopefully it will happen before October,” Brady said.

In addition to federal budget cuts, Birch said the VNA might also have to deal with cuts at the state level.

“We’ve heard we should brace ourselves for another 10 percent cut from the state,” she said.

Birch said the VNA has had to cut about five full-time positions to deal with the budget constraints, and said several people seeking the VNA’s services have been placed on a waiting list because of staff shortage.

“We continue to try and react to what happens, but we continue to be faced with challenging case loads,” she said.

Birch said two local challenges include an increasing number of monolingual patients

and uninsured patients.

“While we are having to cut back, there’s a growing number of people that have to access our services because they don’t have health insurance,” she said.

Local funding is still there but it can’t replace what is being lost in state and federal cutbacks, she said.

“Our commissioners in Routt and Moffat County have been gracious,” she said.

Going into the 2003 budget process, Birch said local officials had requested that agencies ask for less money, but the VNA can’t afford any cutbacks in local dollars.

“We asked for the same amount,” she said. “We can’t ask for less money but we can hold the line where we’re at.”

The mission of the VNA is

“To provide comprehensive community health services through public health, home health and hospice services.”

If the VNA has to stop making home visits, Birch said those visited who have to find other means of care are not the only ones who

would be impacted.

“We’re the only ones going in and checking on these people,” she said. “Many will have to begin going to the hospital and nursing homes.”

The cuts cannot continue if the VNA is going to continue, she said.

“We have three years to turn this around,” she said.


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