Tuesday, May 03, 2016

In budget cuts, Oklahoma to close five rural health clinics that served 19,000 people last year

The Oklahoma State Health Department announced it is closing five rural health clinics—in Drumright, Lindsay, Buffalo, Beggs and Henryetta—that provided service to more than 19,000 people last year, Janelle Stecklein reports for Community Newspaper Holdings. The clinics, which will close in July, "offer a range of services—such as wellness exams for women, screenings for cervical cancer and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases—sometimes regardless of an individual's ability to pay," Stecklein writes. "Department spokesman Tony Sellars said the agency is bracing for a cut as deep as 19 percent from its annual budget of $56.4 million—the effect of a $1.3 billion hole in the state budget. Closing the clinics, which only open a few days each week, will save $77,600 a year."

Health care experts say "closing rural clinics especially hurts the poor, including families and the elderly, who rely on the offices for primary care including vaccinations to ward off potentially serious illnesses such as the flu," Stecklein writes. While the health department said the closures are taking place in areas with multiple health offices, Andy Fosmire, vice president for rural health at the Oklahoma Hospital Association, said the closures will force some residents to travel 20 or more miles to another clinic. He said that will make it difficult for low-income residents with limited transportation living in remote areas to receive care and will put a greater burden on local hospitals. (Read more)

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