Health departments in Broward and Palm Beach counties plan to lay off at least 60 people and cut back some medical services to cope with millions in budget cuts, officials said.
Patients may have to drive past a nearby clinic to a farther one to get family planning services, immunizations and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, after the changes take effect next week.
The Broward department will eliminate 85 of about 650 positions, resulting in the layoff of 43 employees, said Dr. Paula Thaqi, the unit director. The department also will dismiss a smaller group of temporary workers and eliminate some vacant jobs, she said.
Affected employees come from across the department and were notified over the past 10 days that they would lose their jobs as of Sept. 16, Thaqi said.
Palm Beach County's department is eliminating 82 of about 1,030 positions, although most of those can move into other jobs that have been held vacant, said Dr. Alina Alonso, the unit director. Only eight people will be laid off. A clinic in Riviera Beach will close.
"Unfortunately, in an effort to operate within our budget… we are downsizing staff," Thaqi said. "We are changing some of our operations. We still remain committed to providing high quality health services to the entire community."
The cutbacks stem from changes made by the statewide Florida Department of Health, which is cutting staff. The state health department's $2.9 billion budget is about the same as the last year's, even though more people are seeking public health care due to the economy. Several other counties have laid off employees, closed clinics and dropped programs.
Forced to cut spending for health programs by $3.3 million, the department chose not to close any of its five clinics or reduce hours of operation, Thaqi said. But some clinics will drop certain services to save money.
The department's Hollywood clinic will no longer offer family planning and childhood immunizations. Those programs move about 12 miles to the Edgar P. Mills Center in Fort Lauderdale, she said.
Medical services for sexually transmitted diseases will no longer be offered at clinics in Hollywood and Pompano Beach, and instead will be consolidated at the department's main offices on State Road 84 in Fort Lauderdale.
"The programs will still be accessible," Thaqi said.
Palm Beach County
To avoid layoffs, Alonso said the department will save $800,000 a year by moving its specialty care clinic out of a leased building in Riviera Beach. Medical care for sexually transmitted diseases will move to its six other clinics. HIV/AIDS care moves to a clinic in West Palm Beach and tuberculosis care to Delray Beach.
Unlike Broward, the Palm Beach operation runs its own primary care clinics for people without health insurance.
The department has eliminated 26 jobs and most Saturday and evening hours at its Women Infants and Children programs. It will make the same changes at the six primary clinics, Alonso said. Facing a spending cut of about $8 million, her staff began planning for layoffs months ago.
"We had virtually stopped hiring so we would have open jobs we could put people into when we had this layoff," Alonso said.
Under first-term Gov. Rick Scott, whose former company runs urgent care centers, state health officials had proposed cutting all money for primary care clinics run by county departments. Legislators did not approve the idea, but it's likely to reappear next year.
Said Alonso: "This is not over."