HAMILTON – For the first time in more than 40 years, Ravalli County will not provide women’s health services through the federal Title X Family Planning program.
The Ravalli County Commission voted 3-2 to refuse the funds Friday morning.
The county was slated to receive a little less than $50,000 this next fiscal year to operate the county health department’s family planning clinic, which provides birth control, annual exams, pregnancy and pap tests, testing for sexually transmitted diseases, nutrition education and counseling on a sliding scale for women.
Ravalli County Public Health Director Judy Griffin said the commission’s decision means that as of Sept. 30, the county will no longer offer the services paid for by the Title X funding.
The program currently has a client list of about 400 women, mostly of low income.
The commission has been divided over its support for the program over the past few years, including a 3-2 vote earlier this year to accept partial funding for the program.
The vote for fiscal year 2014 funding was slated to occur Thursday morning.
After the board deadlocked 2-2, a motion was made to reconvene the meeting on Friday when Commissioner Suzy Foss was slated to return.
Commission Chairman Jeff Burrows said it was his understanding the board did not have to provide public notice when it continues a meeting from one day to the next.
Burrows said a handful of people at the meeting spoke out against the county accepting the federal funds. One person spoke in favor of the program.
In earlier votes, Foss had supported the program, albeit with some hesitation.
On Friday, commissioners Burrows, Foss and Ron Stoltz voted against accepting the funds. Commissioners J.R. Iman and Greg Chilcott voted to support the program.
Foss didn’t return a phone call Friday asking about her vote.
Burrows said later that while he supported most of the services provided by the family planning clinic, he was opposed to the program’s insistence that minors be served without parents first being notified.
“That issue of government stepping in between the child and parent relationship is the big one for me,” Burrows said.
Burrows said he didn’t like the idea that strings were attached to the funding and the commission was being forced to take the bad with the good.
The commission will look at the potential of finding funding to provide some of the services that the clinic has offered in the past, he said.
“Right now, I don’t know the legalities of the county being able to fund public heath, but if the county has some available funding for services that I feel are worthwhile, I would be for taking that to the board and trying to keep some services,” he said.
Chilcott said the issue of government stepping between parent and child in the Title X program has always been challenging for the commission.
“Unfortunately, Congress has put some nasty barbs in the bait with Title X funding,” Chilcott said.
Services like screening for cancers, STDs, HIV and reproductive health issues are important for the community, especially for those who can’t afford them,” he said.
“The board has had to weigh the costs versus the benefits,” he said. “In this case, the majority of the board found the social costs were more of a liability than the benefits are worth.”
Chilcott agreed the commission would probably look at the potential of the county providing some of the services the board agrees are beneficial to the citizens and taxpayers.
Griffin said she was “shocked” when told of the commission’s decision to defund the program Friday.
“There will be a lot of low-income people who will have to look for alternatives to the services we have provided for years,” Griffin said. “It’s hard for a lot of people to go to Missoula to access those services.”
Three years ago, when it appeared as though the commission would make a similar decision, Griffin said Planned Parenthood expressed interest in accepting the Title X funding for Ravalli County.
“I don’t know where they stand at this point,” she said. “It certainly would be an alternative.”
At this point, Griffin said her office will begin contacting the clinic’s 400 clients to let them know the services would no longer be available in Hamilton after September.
“We’ve had generations of people coming through this office to get birth control, counseling and other services,” she said. “It’s a huge concern for all of us on where those people are going to go for those services now.”
“We do want everyone to know that we totally appreciate the past and present support of the local medical community and from commissioners Chilcott and Iman,” she said.