Budget Ax Falls on Community Clinics

Cuts Made to Save $500,000

Cynder Sinclair
Paul Wellman (file)

In an effort to save $500,000, four high-ranking administrators with the Santa Barbara Community Clinics were laid off last Friday, and two medical professionals were let go, as well. One victim of the fiscal bloodletting was Dennis Feeley, whose tenure with the confederation of four community clinics dates back 33 years. Another was seven-year deputy director Bonnie Campbell.

The cuts were necessary, said executive Cynder Sinclair, because of the high cost of complying with federal requirements that medical records be kept electronically. Sinclair estimated the direct and indirect costs of compliance were about $3.5 million: That’s for an organization with a $9.5-million annual budget. In addition, Sinclair said the clinics have had to hire two-and-a-half new medical professionals to deal with an anticipated 50-percent increase in patient load expected in January 2014. That’s in response to an expansion of Medi-Cal eligibility rules included in President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform bill.

The four neighborhood clinics composing the Santa Barbara Community Clinics currently provide primary-care services to about 17,000 clients a year ​— ​70,000 office visits ​— ​most of whom are uninsured and fall well below federal poverty guidelines. While the cuts came suddenly to those on the receiving end, Sinclair said the clinics’ board had deliberated long and hard over them. “We have no fat,” she said. Sinclair said she anticipates no further cuts will be necessary. “We’re already lean; that’s why it was so difficult.” In addition, she said, the clinics have been hurt by recent state reductions in Medi-Cal reimbursements and the outright elimination of state support for adult dental care.

Friday’s layoffs add another dimension to recent unrest surfacing at Santa Barbara’s Community Clinics. In January, clinic doctors and physicians’ assistants, voted to unionize after longtime medical director Neil Sullivan was removed from his post under circumstances still under dispute. Union supporters insist Sullivan was removed by Sinclair; Sinclair insists he resigned under his own steam. Sullivan, who is now working as a physician for the clinics and has been replaced as medical director, has yet to return several phone calls. In the meantime, the union and management are in negotiations.


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