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Delta County Health Department's Koehler Talks About Sequestration Cuts


Municipalities, agencies and organizations are beginning to glimpse what the Sequestration – a round of budget cuts imposed by Congress – means to the rest of the country. 

Delta County Health Officer Bonnie Koehler told commissioners yesterday that the sequestration has taken a whack out of a crucial fund, the Community Services Block Grant that pays for some family planning services (excluding abortions), along with emergency medications for those who can’t afford them.

"That’s the money we use here to work with unintended pregnancies," said Koehler. "And then medications for people who don’t have a payment source, but can’t get out of the hospital or the ER until they can get this med. Last year I had $49,000 to do this, they’re preliminarily indicating that I’m going to get 20,224."

The $30,000 cut will not be felt immediately, however. Koehler said, "My plan right now is to continue business as usual, because this has happened before, not with sequestration but with the delay in the federal budget. So I will continue business as usual but if this does not change, those programs will stop, probably on or about August."

Koehler says the Health Department is vulnerable when federal money is in doubt, because those funds directly or indirectly pay for many of its services. "We are heavily dependent on contracts – state contracts and federal contracts – so I have to be nimble. Because my sense is, this is the first one, but this will happen to my family planning money, my West Nile virus money, my maternal and child health block money. So this is really a chance to reinvent how we do business in Delta County."

Koehler’s window at the County Health Department is fancifully decorated with wands to do the magic she feels her job requires. And she takes the cuts personally. "When I look at these budget sheets, I don’t see numbers, I see faces. A lot of these programs are for women and children who by very function of age cannot vote. I need to be their advocate."

With another budget battle looming in the nation’s capital at the end of March, Koehler may need an extra dose of magic.

Marty Durlin contributes freelance news features, including coverage of Delta County Commissioner's meetings and local governmental issues.