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Culver City Youth Clinic Facing Financial Woes : Medicine: Nonprofit health center on a local high school campus is struggling to maintain service levels while coping with a funding crisis.

June 29, 1995|MARY MOORE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The school year just ended last week, but the staff of the Culver City Youth Health Center already is thinking about September--and the thoughts are putting butterflies in their stomachs.

Like most nonprofit health clinics, the center each year must hunt for funding to run its programs. This year, with public funding drying up, the clinic will have to depend more than ever on foundation grants and donations.

"We're shooting for a lot of community support and in-kind, material donations," said center director Sara Thier, who has been on staff since early May. "We have a lot of doctors knocking on our door who want to help us . . . but we don't have the money for supplies so they can do their job, and we don't have enough space."

Because of the ongoing money crunch, the center has had to scale back its services the past few years, and the 1994-95 school year looks particularly grim because of possible cutbacks in funding for the center's tobacco awareness program.

Nearly one-third of the clinic's $300,000 budget has come from tobacco tax revenue to fund anti-smoking and anti-tobacco presentations for middle- and high-school students.

The full-service youth health center, which once was operated as a satellite facility of UCLA, is located at Culver City High School. Its patients are mostly students in the Culver City Unified School District, many of whom are uninsured or have a limited amount of insurance.

'I'm really glad we have that place, because it's really convenient," said Jennifer Mangio, 16, who regularly visits the clinic for check-ups and prescriptions. "When I need something, I can just go there during school."

Two doctors, one from UCLA Medical Center and the other from Kaiser Permanente in Panorama City, combine for a day and a half of duty each week. They sometimes bring residents and medical interns with them. The physicians treat ailments ranging from runny noses to sexually transmitted diseases, perform physicals, conduct health tests and provide contraception for students who have received written approval from their parents.

Graduate students from USC working toward degrees in social work provide much of the mental health counseling. The number of teen-agers seeking counseling has mushroomed, with physical and sexual abuse, depression and eating disorders the most prevalent problems, Thier said. During the just-completed school year, 1,100 of the center's more than 3,000 visitors were seen for mental health issues, she said.

Most of the funding for the center's mental health services is donated by the nonprofit Friends of the Culver City Youth Health Center, which raises about $20,000 a year for the program.

The health center also conducts health education programs, teaching students about AIDS and HIV, and encouraging delayed sexual involvement. The center's tobacco education program, led by 25 middle school and high school students, has been the center's best endowed. But it also is the one most at risk.

"If you take the tobacco prevention out of the formula, it weakens the system," said Vicki Karlan, the center's former director who now leads public health programs at the Venice Family Clinic. The program's funding is tied up in Sacramento because of lawsuits filed by the American Lung Assn., Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights and other nonsmoking advocates. These groups allege that the state misused tobacco tax revenues that were earmarked for tobacco prevention programs.

Proposition 99, which was passed by voters in 1988, raised the tobacco tax 25 cents per pack and authorized the revenue to fund tobacco education, research and treatment for people with tobacco-related illnesses. However, the Legislature passed a bill last year that allowed the state to siphon nearly $129 million of the tobacco tax revenues to pay for indigent health care.

The action prompted the lawsuits, and a Sacramento Superior Court judge in January ruled that the state could not spend the money on indigent care. The state has appealed the decision, but until a decision is made on the appeal, much of the funding for tobacco education is stalled.

Concerned that tobacco funding will not come through next school year, the center's staff is scrambling for alternatives, such as seeking increased donations or scaling back programs.

The center has had to make cuts since UCLA Medical Center ceased operating the facility as a satellite location during the past two years. Although UCLA still provides some medical care, the medical center's retrenchment left the center's staff and supporters to write grants and to raise funds.

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