City health department could lay off 80

  • By Alex Parker
  • Staff Writer
  • July 03, 2009 @ 7:00 AM

The Chicago Department of Public Health announced yesterday that it expects to lay off 80 employees, cut spending by 25 percent, and reduce lead testing in response to the state budget crisis.

“When it comes to public health, the General Assembly’s plan is a prescription for disaster in Chicago, in the suburbs and statewide,” department chief Dr. Terry Mason  said at a press conference.

If state legislators and Gov. Pat Quinn are unable to resolve the budget impasse, the city would have to reduce the number of food inspections, offer fewer vaccinations for diseases like polio and measles, see fewer mental health patients, offer fewer mammograms and reduce lead inspections and screenings.

Mason also said the city would reduce its sexually transmitted disease services, domestic violence services, investigations of MRSA and other bacterial viruses, and reduce its swine flu response.

He said an undetermined number of mental health clinics and clinics treating sexually transmitted diseases could be closed. He also said the budget cuts would imperil a new collaboration with Chicago Public Schools to treat sexually transmitted diseases, like gonorrhea and Chlymdia.

“This is real. This is not something that is contrived,” Mason said. “You cannot make bricks without straw and you cannot provide services without people. This political game which is being framed as an economic argument, but it’s a political game and it needs a political solution and it needs it now.”

Chicago Department of Family and Support Services commissioner Mary Ellen Caron said her department stands to lose $13 million, or 17 percent of its budget.

“The magnitude of these cuts cannot be measured in dollars along,” she said. “The cuts promise to devastate the very organizations that serve as the safety net for the most vulnerable in Chicago.”

One of the most costly support services to be affected, Caron said, is the city’s juvenile intervention system, which would lose all of its funding. She said the consequences of cutting the program would result in a $26 million hit for the state, as may have to process and incarcerate 350 city youths who would not have intervention services.

It costs about $2,000 to provide a juvenile case work, Caron said. It costs about $70,000 to incarcerate a juvenile.

Caron said cuts would severely affect child care assistance and reimbursement programs, homeless services, senior benefit services, domestic violence resources and home care services for seniors.

Sol Flores, executive director of La Casa Norte said her agency stands to lose $260,000 to help the homeless or those close to homelessness.

“The impact to homeless and at-risk youth and families in Chicago, those who are already living on the edge, will be absolutely devastating,” she said.

Already thing resources for the homeless are “a stretched tight rubber band, and with this budget that rubber band snaps back into our faces in the middle of the most critical economic downturn,” she said.

Leaders of other social service agencies gave similar dramatic testimony, detailing the effect of budget cuts on families and the economy.

Bernie Wong, president of the Chinese American Service League, said at least 90 people her agency helps will lose their jobs, representing a $2 million loss in state tax revenue. She said welfare applications will rise, further hurting the state’s pocketbook.

The state began its fiscal year yesterday without a spending plan. Lawmakers are reconvening in Springfield July 14 to vote on a budget. Gov. Pat Quinn is lobbying for a 50 percent income tax increase, which he says would prevent drastic cuts to human service agencies.

Daily News Staff Writer Alex Parker covers public health. He can be reached at 773.362.5002, ext. 17, or alex [at] chitowndailynews [dot] org.