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Hats off to the King County Council for unveiling a proposed 2015-2016 budget this week that keeps the county’s 10 public health clinics open — at least for now.

King County Councilmember Joe McDermott
King County Councilmember Joe McDermott

“The council recognized the importance of these services, especially maternity support services and the [Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children] that are unique to the county and that others don’t provide,” said Councilmember Joe McDermott, chair of the Budget and Fiscal Management Committee.

Faced with a $15 million annual shortfall, Public Health — Seattle & King County has been scrambling to find partners to take over some or all of the direct services provided at its clinics, including primary care, family planning, maternity support and supplemental nutrition for infants. An Oct. 30 Seattle Times editorial commended efforts by cities and local health care partners to keep sites open in Federal Way and White Center. Public health employees even agreed to wage concessions, but it wasn’t enough to close the funding gap.

Before this week’s announcement, two sites were slated for closure in January — the Northshore Public Health Center in Bothell and the more heavily-used Auburn Public Health Clinic. (I profiled one of the clinic’s patients in a Nov. 3 blog post.) Last week, I followed up on a community effort to save the Auburn site, which included pledges from various groups totaling about $700,000. That amount fell short of the $1.6 million needed to prevent closure.

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McDermott said budget-writers saw the response and knew they had to act to preserve public safety, care for vulnerable children and prevent unintended pregnancies. Auburn School District has the third highest teen pregnancy rate in the county.

“Thanks to key partnerships we propose keeping all ten county public health clinics open into the biennium,” McDermott said in a news release. “This is only a bridge. We will continue working with many partners – and our state Legislature – to find a more sustainable solution for Public Health.”

The budget committee meets Thursday morning. A final budget is up for a vote before the full council next Monday, Nov. 17.

Remember: this is a band-aid approach to paying for public health. Community leaders must stay at the table — and the Washington Legislature will have to get more involved to find a long-term funding source.

Where there’s a will, there’s certainly a way to fund cost-effective prevention for women and children who need it most.