Simpson: $1.6 million in health department budget cuts could be 'catastrophic'

Budget to be released Thursday, councilman says
Posted at 10:20 PM, May 08, 2017

CINCINNATI -- Upcoming cuts to the city budget could compromise the ability of some Cincinnati mothers to access health care for their newborns, according to officials who mounted the steps of City Hall Monday evening.

The city manager's office hasn't released its official budget recommendations yet; City Council Member Chris Seelbach said they'll be released Thursday morning.

In light of a projected $25 million deficit in the upcoming fiscal year, City Manager Harry Black asked in February that nearly every city department carve out 10 percent of its budget to cope with the loss. (Police and fire departments will shave off a thinner slice: 3 percent.)

For the Health Department, those cuts will total around $1.6 million -- and, according to Robert Brown of the City of Cincinnati Primary Care Board, could force the closure of an east side hospital and damage a program aimed at reducing infant morality.

When news of the requested cuts came through, Brown said, "(t)he response from senior management was closing the Braxton Cann Medical Center on the east side -- the only public health center on the east side -- and terminating the maternal and infant health program which is fundamental to the First Steps program."

Hamilton County's infant mortality rate is already higher than the national average: Around 9 out of every 1,000 babies will die before their first birthday. Although programs such as First Steps, Start Strong and Cradle Cincinnati hope to bring that number down, infant death continues to affect African-American and low-income communities at the highest rates.

For some, such as City Council Member and mayoral hopeful Yvette Simpson, the request for cuts comes at an especially concerning time. The House of Representatives voted May 4 to pass the American Health Care Act, which would fulfill Republicans' longtime promise to "repeal and replace" President Barack Obama's hallmark Affordable Care Act.

The new bill would roll back Medicaid expansions put in place by the ACA, potentially curtailing the ability of low-income Americans to access health care. Simpson said the combined effect of the AHCA and Black's requested cuts on low-income Cincinnatians could be devastating.

"It's a shame we're having these conversations," Simpson said. "And I'm done with it. The potential repeal of the ACA and cuts to the health department? That's catastrophic."