Health care debate heats up at home

By Layron Livingston - bio | email
Posted by Ellen Krafve - bio | email

TYLER, TX (KLTV) - The only federally-qualified health center in Smith County says it was baffled by the county's decision to cut it's funding. But, Smith County officials say that's just not the case.

The future of affordable health care for thousands of East Texans now hangs in the balance. Everyday, hundreds pass through Total Healthcare Clinic's doors, and that number is rising.

"This is the safety net that will catch people that don't get health care anywhere else," said Troy Carlyle, the board chairman for the clinic.

Total Healthcare Clinic reports it took on 10,000 new patients in the past two years. Monday morning, Carlyle told commissioners the clinic normally received $486,000. This year, the clinic only got $236,000. Interim clinic director, Dr. Bennie Webster says it's not enough.

"There's no way about it...we have to cut services," said Webster.

Especially when their contract also includes caring for some of the county's inmates

"We can't do that in essence, we've been defunded," said Webster.

"We didn't change our level of funding...other than give them more than they have been given in the past by us...because we've never funded them in the past," said County Judge Joel Baker.

He says the clinic used to be part of the Northeast Texas Public Health District. He says, at that time, it was up to the health district to decide how much money the clinic received. However, the county did donate the building after the clinic split from the health district a year ago.

"We made an application for funding for the NETPHD," said George Roberts, with the Northeast Texas Public Health District. "They made an application for funding for the clinic."

Roberts says, this year, the health district got $250,000 from the county to use for immunizations, disease surveillance and environmental health needs. In the meantime...

"We've learned a lesson...that we need to go before the commissioner, we need to go before Judge Baker to make sure they are constantly aware of what's happening with their community and with citizens of this county," said Webster.

"We're looking at whatever we can do to try and make it now," said Carlyle. keep their doors from ever closing.

Smith County Commissioners have agreed to amend the contract so that the clinic will no longer have to treat county inmates. The clinic reports it provided more than $2.4 million in services last year.

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