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Under threat of budget cuts, state agencies eliminate some health care services for foster kids

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MISSOULA - The prospect of proposed state budget cuts is starting to have trickle-down impacts on local agencies.

The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services is taking action to eliminate funding for programs already on the chopping block, before official budget cuts are even being made by lawmakers or the governor.

DPHHS has cut funding for health care case management in Missoula, Cascade and Yellowstone counties.

In Missoula, the Foster Child Health Program receives this funding. All foster care kids are fully-covered by medicaid.

The program is a collaboration of between Providence Medical Center, Missoula City-County Health Department and Child and Family Services division of DPHHS. They received surprise notice on Friday that all funding from the state was ending, effective immediately.

“What we were really surprised, was, to learn that the funding was cut in advance of that decision actually being made. We didn’t expect that," said Missoula City-County Health Department Director Ellen Leahy. "We are partway into our fiscal year. We have kids on case loads that need to be served.”

That is 50 to 60 cases that these health care providers work together on to provide critical services to vulnerable kids.

“It is a really important program that we have to really ensure that the foster child’s health needs are met, their medical, vision, dental and any special needs they may have, but also it is a support for foster families, when they have children come into their home, that they don’t know their history, that public health nurse visiting their home really allows resource for the foster parent that also stabilizes placements, in a very positive way for children,” said Child and Family Services Regional Administrator Nikki Grossberg.

Grossberg says all three partners have a financial investment.

“The positive things about the collaboration are the Public Health Department and Grant Creek Clinic have also, have a financial investment. Child and Family Services does provide funding to the program, but that it is a combined funding source from a variety of monies,” she said.

The program can continue as long as the health providers can piece together a way to fill the $65,000 gap left by CFSD eliminating this funding.

Leahy said they are working on ways to come up with funding because they want to continue caring for these kids.

“How we can maybe lower some of the intensity of the visits, with the kids, we will be looking at if there’s private partners to support it and get us through this time while we wait for the decisions," Leahy said. "What we are not going to do is abandon the children.”

The program has coordinated and provided the health care needs for 600 foster care kids in Missoula County since 2011. The funding cut also eliminates similar services for foster kids in Yellowstone and Cascade counties.

DPHHS information officers say that the agency is working on developing other options for funding health care case management programs.

“The department is retooling our approach to managing foster child health," said DPHHS communications specialist Chuck Council. "We are currently exploring options for expanding existing programs within the department to meet the health care and other needs of all children in foster care. These other options are funded differently than the existing arrangement with Missoula County Health Department."

There is no word yet from Governor Bullock or the legislature about whether there may be a special legislative session to address budget shortfalls.

Until then, $105 million worth of funding for department of public health programs like this one are waiting to hear whether they will be able to continue their work with Montana’s most vulnerable populations.

The Montana Budget and Policy center reports than an additional $135 million in federal funding that matches or supplements some of the programs would be lost as well, if all of the proposed cuts are realized.

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