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Hundreds of King County's public health workers receive pink slips

Sarah Day, right, talks to Zoie Wilde while weighing Zachary, Wilde
Sarah Day, right, talks to Zoie Wilde while weighing Zachary, Wilde's son, during a well-child visit at the Vashon Methodist Church last month.
— image credit: Leslie Brown/Staff Photo

More than 100 nurses, social workers, administrators and interpreters who provide support to low-income pregnant women and new mothers in King County will lose their jobs next month, according to Public Health — Seattle & King County.

The far-reaching cuts — the result of a 50 percent reduction in state funding for Maternity Support Services and other public health programs — will mean that thousands of vulnerable patients will receive reduced services or none at all, the county's health department said in a news release issued Thursday.

The staff reductions will likely have an impact on Vashon, where Sarah Day has been working as a public health nurse in Maternity Support Services for 15 years. Day, who speaks Spanish fluently and thus has worked extensively with Vashon's Latino population, was one of the many public health nurses who received a pink slip Thursday.

Ken Maaz, director of Vashon Youth & Family Services, called the loss of Day's position in the community "tragic."

"For some young women, she is their first or only connection to resources," he said. "It doesn't mean that others don't try or aren't available. ... But she has a certain expertise that many of the rest of us don't happen to have. ... She's very well-respected in the community — and trusted."

Maternity Support Services, a state program administered by counties, provides support to 30,000 low-income pregnant women and their infants in an effort to ensure babies get off to a healthy start.

The cuts are in response to a $23 million reduction in support for King County health programs approved by the Legislature last month and slated to take effect March 1. About half of those who received layoff notices are nurses. Others who will lose their jobs are managers, dental assistants and community-health workers.

King County Executive Dow Constantine called the cuts "devastating."

"We recognize the challenge that state leaders face in closing the budget gap, but these cuts will have enormous implications for our community and may lead to the additional loss of federal funds," he said in a news release. "We want to work with the state to reinvent how we can protect public health so we can mitigate the impact of these cuts."

In the December special session, lawmakers also cut by one-third its reimbursement for Medicaid services for federally qualified health centers, designated clinics that primarily serve Medicaid recipients and people without insurance. In addition to Public Health Centers, there are six other such health centers in King County (HealthPoint, Neighborcare Health, SeaMar, Country Doctor, Seattle Indian Health Board and International Community Health Services.)

If this reduction remains in place, according to the health department's new release, critical health services will be eliminated, clinics will close and additional providers will be laid off — . and tens of thousands of people will be forced to forgo medical care or go to emergency rooms.

Other state cuts to public health services include the elimination of state tobacco prevention funds, reduction in core state support for public health, and reductions in other Medicaid programs, including adult dental and family planning.

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