What was supposed to be a meeting on how to bring back a “Clinic On Wheels” which served uninsured children in Santa Barbara County, turned into a contentious back-and-forth between several community members and county officials.
The clinic, nicknamed COW, has been idle for more than a year. It was purchased for $190,000 in 2006 with the intent that it would travel to local schools and help register uncovered children for health insurance. According to Deborah Pentland, a Santa Barbara School District nurse, once kids receive the exam being offered on the bus, they are immediately insured for 60 days through Medical, and then entitled to full PPO care after that. About $300,000 total was put into the preparation of the COW. The county and school system were both on board with the idea, and American Indian Health & Services, a Santa Barbara clinic, would run the bus. Youth began receiving physicals and temporary insurance cards, but the honeymoon didn’t last long.
Local businessman Rick Feldman said he still doesn’t know why American Indian Health & Services wasn’t able to carry-on with the program, but it was halted. “They were not in a position to continue with the COW program,” Feldman said. Feldman’s understanding was that the clinic was attempting to sell the COW and in February, he threatened to sue. American Indian Health & Services eventually handed over the pink slip to the bus, but now stakeholders are attempting to resurrect the program, which will take significant financial support.
After explaining the problems with the clinic, Feldman moved onto the county, where he alleged that county officials, via email, had said they thought the “children were being adequately served and don’t believe in the COW.” So Friday’s meeting was to discuss the disconnect of it all. “Lots of work and lots of money has gone into this program and it would be a shame if we couldn’t resurrect the program,” he said. Santa Barbara County, with almost 100,000 children in its population, has one of the highest rates of uninsured children-14 percent-in the state. Last June, the county Board of Supervisors approved a $1 million transfer to go toward insuring those children.
Dr. Elliot Schulman, the county’s Public Health Director, was obviously peeved at the confrontational approach to the meeting. Schulman explained the county wasn’t opposed to the concept of the COW, but had made a decision not to support it financially. The county had decided to focus on fixed site clinics, rather than traveling clinics. The county operates five clinics which serve uninsured children. He also explained there were administrative, operational and financial barriers to running the bus. Schulman and Dr. Peter Hasler, the medical director of Santa Barbara County Children’s Medical Services in the Public Health Department, listed off necessary permits and regulations which would have to be followed as well, even more hindrances to the bus getting up and running. Whomever ends up running the bus would have to reapply for those permits.
So while nothing was solved at Friday’s meeting, one thing is for sure-there are plenty of people looking to solve the county’s difficulties, with different ideas on how to get there. “I can safely say that we all agree there is nothing more important than the health and safety of our kids,” Feldman said.