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Health Care a Victim of County Budget Cuts : Services: Four area clinics will be closed. Libraries and parks avoid worst-case scenario.


THE REGION — In that bureaucratic lottery called county budget-cutting, San Gabriel Valley has come up a winner on parks, a loser on health clinics and a hopeful long shot on library service.

None of the valley's county parks will be closed, contrary to earlier predictions; nor will the Arboretum be fenced off. But four of the region's health clinics are scheduled to close in less than a month. And while library hours and staffing at area branches will be sharply curtailed, librarians are hoping for a tax assessment district that will keep them from closing altogether.

Facing the county's worst fiscal crisis, supervisors last Thursday hammered out a $13.5-billion budget imposing 2,000 layoffs, slashing welfare payments to single adults by 27% and closing four health centers and 20 clinics unless the state releases additional funds.

The San Gabriel Valley will take its share of those cuts.

"Save Our Clinic" reads the sign hanging over the corridor at Alhambra Health Clinic, slated for closure as part of $100-million cut in health services. The clinic is scheduled to close Sept. 1, along with the clinics in La Puente, Azusa and Monrovia.

Nearly 150,000 patients, most of them uninsured, visited these four clinics last year for everything from treatment for sexually transmitted diseases to prenatal care, health officials said.

They added that those needing treatment will have to travel further to El Monte Comprehensive Health Center, Pomona Health Clinic and county hospitals. These are overburdened facilities that are ill-equipped to take on masses of new patients.

"The two remaining health facilities in El Monte and Pomona would just be unmanageable," said Margaret Bremuen, chief executive officer of San Gabriel Valley's health centers.

"When the backlog there gets unmanageable we'll have to send people to (County-USC)," she said. El Monte, an ambulatory care site, sees 135,000 people each year and Pomona cares for 52,000.

The closure of the clinics would affect the whole community, she said. For example, fewer public health nurses would be identifying communicable diseases in the area, leading to an increase in the spread of diseases, Bremuen said.

"A major concern in public health is the increase in the rate of (tuberculosis) in San Gabriel Valley," she said.

Bremuen also said that the closures could hurt private hospitals, as more patients who cannot pay crowd their facilities.

County health officials say unless the Legislature releases $72.8 million in funds, now held back until spending criteria are finalized, the clinics will close.

The Legislature requires the county to spend $546 million on health services for the release of the funds. County officials want that cut to $421 million they have budgeted. The Board of Supervisors has scheduled a hearing on the health center and clinic closures for Aug. 12.

No county libraries in the valley will close until February, but all library hours will be cut, hundreds of librarians will be laid off and no books bought, said Michael Garofalo, regional library administrator.

County library officials are banking on the state lawmakers approving legislation that would allow the county to create an assessment district to raise money for full library service.

The measure, which could cost households $20 to $40 a year, would also need county supervisor approval and could be forced on to November's ballot by a property-owner protest.

Without the assessment, libraries such as La Verne, Sunkist, Norwood in El Monte, Duarte, South El Monte, Live Oak near Arcadia and Charter Oak could close in February. Until then, those branches will be open two days a week.

Meanwhile, county Parks and Recreation officials, who early in the budget process had projected as many 72 park closures, say all the parks, swimming pools and the county Arboretum will be spared and most recreation programs will continue.

Officials had put Arcadia Community Regional County Park, Charter Oak County Park near Covina, Gloria Heer County Park and Trailview County Park in Rowland Heights on the chopping block.

Tony Yakimovich, department budget chief, said a parks program that bombards gang-infested parks with constant recreation activity lost $836,000 in funds. And keeping parks open depends on the willingness of county workers to take an 8.25% pay cut, thus saving the county $215 million, said department spokeswoman Sheila Ortega.

Closing Doors

Hours at all San Gabriel Valley libraries in the county system will be sharply curtailed in the wake of budget cuts.

DAYS OPEN HOURS OPEN NEW DAYS NEW HOURS LIBRARY NOW PER WEEK PER WEEK PER WEEK West Covina 7 60 4 28 Claremont 6 50 4 28 Hacienda Heights 6 50 4 28 Rowland Heights 6 50 4 28 Diamond Bar 6 50 3 21 San Dimas 6 50 3 21 Baldwin Park 6 50 3 21 El Monte 5 40 3 21 La Puente 5 40 2 14 Walnut 5 40 2 14 Sunkist, La Puente 5 40 2 14 Norwood, El Monte 5 40 2 14 Duarte 5 40 2 14 South El Monte 4 28 2 14 Live Oak 4 28 2 14 Charter Oak 4 28 2 14

Source: County Public Library East County Region

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