Sunday, May 19, 2013
READFIELD -- Maranacook Student Health Center will have the money it needs next year, but other health programs in and out of schools remain at risk.
The latest state budget makes a one-third cut to community and school grants from the Fund for a Healthy Maine, amounting to a reduction of nearly $2.8 million. The money helps sustain school-based health centers like Maranacook's, the Coordinated School Health Program and the state's 27 Healthy Maine Partnerships, including Healthy Communities of the Capital Area.
Leaders of those programs are bracing themselves as the Maine Centers for Disease Control decides how to distribute the reduced funding.
At stake for Maranacook Student Health Center is a $36,000 grant that makes up 41 percent of their budget.
Last week, however, staff and supporters of the health center were relieved when Regional School Unit 38 voters amended the school board-approved budget to allocate more money to the health center.
The budget, which goes to a referendum vote June 12, already included $30,000 for the health center. The district will pay up to $36,000 in addition, depending on how much the state grant is cut. Any extra money will carry forward to the next RSU 38 budget.
No one voted or spoke against the amendment at the regional budget meeting last week, RSU 38 Superintendent Rich Abramson said.
"There were probably about 15 people who spoke to that article being increased: students, parents, teachers, doctors, social workers," Abramson said. "It was a steady parade to the microphone, and they all spoke very, very highly of it."
Health center Coordinator Cindy Flye said the center has become a part of the school's fabric in almost 20 years of operation, and she's grateful to voters for supporting it.
The additional district funding will allow the center to maintain its staff of doctors, nurse practitioners, social workers and mental health professionals who help keep middle and high school students healthy and in school, Flye said.
The health center was fortunate to be able to turn to RSU 38 as a backup source of funding, but Healthy Communities of the Capital Area doesn't have one.
Healthy Communities runs a variety of public health initiatives in Richmond and 18 communities in southern Kennebec County. They partner with several other community organizations, including Hallowell-based RSU 2 and Gardiner-based RSU 11, whose school health coordinators also are funded through the community and school grants being cut.
Healthy Communities Director Joanne Joy said the organization runs entirely on grants, and the budget fluctuates between $400,000 and $500,000 per year. The Fund for a Healthy Maine typically provides about 70 percent of that.
Department of Health and Human Services spokesman John Martins said the budget included protections for the Healthy Maine Partnerships to make sure they all continue to operate in some capacity.
"The goal of the Legislature is to keep them all open," Martins said. "If any of them have to close based on these reductions, there's an advisory committee that has to be made aware of it, and they have to vote on it."
Joy said she appreciates that the Legislature did not make the 100 percent funding cut proposed by Gov. Paul LePage.
"It could have been much worse, and we're fortunate that the infrastructure of the 27 Healthy Maine Partnerships was maintained," Joy said.
Healthy Communities has a staff of five people, and Joy said one recently took a job elsewhere because of the organization's uncertain prospects.
Joy said Healthy Communities will have to drastically reduce the services that person provided, mainly consisting of coordinating worksite wellness programs with municipalities, small businesses and companies with low-wage workers.
The organization is applying for more grants to support its particular areas of interest, including tobacco cessation for mental health patients and farm-to-school food programs to help fight childhood obesity.
Susan McMillan -- 621-5645