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Wednesday, July 19, 2006 - Page updated at 12:49 PM

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Information in this article, originally published July 19, 2006, was corrected July 19, 2006. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the date that agency employees received an e-mail about a budget deficit. The e-mail was sent last week, not Tuesday.

"Significant deficit" may force closure of two county health clinics

Seattle Times staff reporters

King County public-health officials are considering closing two of the county's 10 main health centers, a money-saving move that could mean long trips for residents of North Seattle and North King County trying to get care.

A final decision on the fate of North Public Health Center in Seattle's Northgate neighborhood and Northshore Public Health Center in Bothell won't be made until later this year, said Matías Valenzuela, spokesman for Public Health — Seattle & King County.

But the department is facing a "significant deficit" in its 2007 budget, according to an e-mail sent last week to employees from Dorothy Teeter, interim director of the agency.

"Because of this difficult fiscal environment, and in order to balance our budget, we will need to propose significant cuts in Public Health administrative overhead, substantial reductions in client services and other programmatic reductions across the department," Teeter wrote.

Both centers offer services such as primary health care, maternity care, immunizations, teen clinics, and HIV and tuberculosis testing. Many clients are uninsured or receiving Medicaid.

Debora Gay, deputy county budget director, confirmed both clinics are in a mix of alternatives for saving money for Public Health. She declined to discuss other possibilities.

"It's so much at the beginning of the [budget] process, it's a very fluid situation," Gay said.

Public Health's proposal will go to King County Executive Ron Sims in September or October. Sims will then present the entire budget proposal to the Metropolitan King County Council on Oct. 16, Gay said. So, the final budget for Public Health won't be known until King County adopts its budget by Thanksgiving.

Proposals to close health centers have been floated in past years, but none has ever closed, Valenzuela said.

So far, the closings "are contingency discussions," Valenzuela said. But more and more patients are seeking services at the county clinics, and more of them are uninsured or unable to pay.

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If both clinics were closed, it would leave the Eastgate Public Health Center in Bellevue's Factoria neighborhood and the downtown Seattle clinic on Fourth Avenue as the closest clinics for people in North Seattle and North King County.

The other county clinics are in South Seattle and South King County.

Kyung Song: 206-464-2423 or ksong@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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