By Bob Shimabukuro
For Northwest Asian Weekly
In 1973, Dr. Eugene Ko, a well-established physician on Beacon Hill, lent the Beacon Avenue medical office to a group of young activists for the newly-created Asian Community Health Clinic (ACHC), a free “walk-in” clinic, which operated Tuesday evenings from 7 to 9. This founding group included the Muramoto brothers, Al and Keith; Bruce Miyahara; Jon Nakagawa, the first director of the clinic; Jan Ko Fisher, who continues to serve as a board member; Fernando Vega; Ken Nakata; Wilfred Fujimoto; Janet Kubota; Dr. Joseph Okimoto; Rebecca Kang; and others.
—From “1973-2008: Bringing Health Care Home”
Can the International Community Health Services (ICHS) survive a 50 percent budget cut? That’s the question a lot of community folks are wondering about, given the governor’s proposed bare bones state budget. The fiscal impact of the budget on ICHS, an $8,680,701 cut, was clearly laid out in a letter to state legislators by Executive Director Teresita Batayola, who said that the loss of Basic Health was a big blow for them. A $6.7 million blow.
Now, I know it’s easy to shrug your shoulders and think, “Well, there goes another safety net because of the economic crisis.” However, we’re talking about something more important. Yes, Basic Health has about 50,000 members (and a growing waiting list), and I don’t want to trivialize the importance of its elimination or the hit that all the community clinics are taking with the budget.
However, in this particular case, I’m really concerned about the ID (International District) clinic.
The clinic has changed its name multiple times during its existence, but I’ll always think of it as “the ID clinic.” The clinic, which was formed by community folks, students, and volunteering professionals, was established because people recognized that our community had specific and special health and medical needs that weren’t being addressed by the mainstream health provider system. The clinic surpassed even the wildest dreams of its founders in becoming a national model for multilingual, multiethnic, multicultural health clinics that could become the standard for urban community health centers starting in 2014.
I don’t choose the year 2014 randomly. These community clinics will be the backbone of the new health care system. The clinics will be funded by national health care reform, provided that the Republicans don’t repeal it.
Ironic, isn’t it? We may have to shut down these clinics in order to save money, so that we can restart them at a much greater cost in 2014.
In the budget plan that Gov. Christine Gregoire offered to the legislature, for consideration, there was nothing left to cut out of the state budget other than social services, health services, and education.
And Basic Health, a “safety net” insurance for the working poor (not poor enough for Medicaid, but not paid enough to afford insurance) was a big target for elimination.
On Jan. 24, the State House of Representatives agreed with Gov. Gregoire as they passed (55–43 vote) their supplemental budget plan, ESHB 1086, which included termination of Basic Health on April 30.
The Senate has yet to weigh in on this proposal or offer their own version of a minimalist budget.
However, it’s difficult to see how different it could be. The state has no money to run programs, so it will either cut the programs or raise more money.
The legislators are reluctant to raise money via more taxes, especially given the resounding defeat by voters on the “income tax for rich folks” plan in the last election.
Still, it’s hard to accept defeat. As Batayola pointed out, the need is there.
“Last year, we saw over 155,000 visits compared to over 92,000 visits in 2009, and over 60,000 visits in 2008. More than ever, more people are in need of affordable care. … In December, we were swamped with Medicaid adults seeking dental care before their benefits disappeared. People walked in, waiting up to seven hours to be squeezed in because we were already fully booked with adults. The standard and availability of care that ICHS can provide will slip irreversibly for years if we lose close to half of our funding.”
Her words made me more determined. I wrote a small check to the ICHS Foundation. It would take 86,000 such gifts to make up the deficit. Maybe some corporate executive or one of those “rich folks” who favored the income tax could make up the remainder. Who knows? This is the ID Clinic I’m talking about. Magical things have happened there before.
“[One reason] I stay on [the board] is that the future for ICHS is really big, the kind of impact that we can make on the policy level to help our community, not only locally, but nationally, is tremendous.”
— Hiroshi Nakano, board member since 1997, current president, from “1973-2008: Bringing Health Care Home” ♦
Bob Shimabukuro is a writer and a community advocate.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.