Alan Chung of ICHS with a patient. Photo courtesy ICHS.
Alan Chung of ICHS with a patient. Photo courtesy ICHS.

Seventeen years ago, shortly after moving to Washington from South Korea, Hyun Ja Kang began coming to International Community Health Services (ICHS) when she was pregnant with her infant son. These days, Kang is undergoing chemotherapy at Swedish Hospital.

“She drove all the way from Bellingham to ICHS when she discovered a lump in her breast,” said Veronica Kim, Women’s Preventive Health Services coordinator. “Kang continues to rely on our clinic because it provides Korean language translation assistance along with medical and dental services.”

“ICHS staff has always been here for me, and I had no doubt that they would make me feel comfortable,” Kang said. “It’s unfortunate that the state is thinking of cutting funding for medical interpretation. This service helps me to communicate with my doctor. Without interpretation, the doctor and I cannot understand each other, and this can lead to costly mistakes.”

As the legislature in Olympia debates Gov. Chris Gregoire’s proposed all-cuts budget, the state’s $5.7 billion deficit threatens to dismantle social safety net programs that serve Washington’s most vulnerable citizens and make it more difficult for clients like Kang to access the medical and health care services they so desperately need.

Among those programs targeted for substantial reductions is ICHS, the state’s largest Asian and Pacific Islander community health center. If state lawmakers enact the Governor’s budget, state health care programs would be trimmed by about $120 million, while the center’s operating budget would be cut in half.

At stake are the center’s core services, which are presently funded through a combination of state programs that provide health coverage or support the delivery of health care for uninsured patients. Those services include the Basic Health program, which provides subsidized health coverage to low-income residents not covered by Medicaid; preventive dental and medical interpretation services for adults on Medicaid; Apple Health for Kids, which insures income-qualified children; and grants for community health services.

As a federally-supported community health center, ICHS is mandated to serve all individuals who come to its clinics for services, with or without the support of these state programs. “The budget cuts ICHS has endured in the past two years, in addition to the new budget cuts announced by the state, have severely hampered our ability to serve the increasing number of patients coming through its clinics,” said ICHS CEO Teresita Batayola.

More than 18,000 patients rely on the center for care, she said. “If those cuts are enacted, it will compromise our ability to provide affordable and accessible care to those who need our services.”

Budget cuts for interpretation programs would make it virtually impossible for Kang and about 150,000 people statewide to continue receiving assistance with those services. Budget reductions in dental services also would have a crippling effect on services to 126,000 people, while cuts in basic health would hinder 58,000 clients from getting adequate care.

“Our patients will be left with nowhere else to go for care,” said Kim. Kang agrees. “Medical interpretation gave me hope for a second life,” Kang said, who is undergoing treatment for breast cancer. “Without it, I would not have been able to understand my doctor’s diagnosis and my chances for survival.”

“These programs are vital components of a health care safety net that is supposed to provide care for people who do not have health coverage or are not able to access care because of their language and income,” said Batayola.

“Many of those programs cover preventive care such as well-child checks, immunizations, dental screenings, and diabetes education – things that will prevent people from developing serious health conditions that are expensive to treat. Providing free or low-cost immunizations is also very important in keeping the general public healthy,” she added.

Established in the early 1970s as the Asian Community Health Clinic, the International District Community Health Center, or ID Clinic as it was then known, was the first of its kind in the nation to serve a diverse population at one site. More than thirty-five years later, ICHS serves a broader client base that encompasses South Seattle through its Holly Park Medical and Dental Clinic.

ICHS provides primary medical and dental services, as well as Chinese traditional medicine to all of its clients regardless of their ability to pay. Among its multitude of services, ICHS health educators work with patients to manage chronic disease conditions, offer reproductive health options, and start lifestyle changes. The center’s behavioral health program includes traditional counseling for problems such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

The center’s Women, Infants, and Children Nutrition Program strives to improve health outcomes for women, infants, and children. ICHS’s community advocates educate patients and other community members about health issues, such as women’s health screenings and diabetes.

In addition, the center also offers community outreach services to Chinese, Filipino, Korean, Mien, Pacific Islander and Vietnamese communities.

Experts agree that the proposed 2011-2013 biennium budget would severely weaken Washington State’s human services infrastructure. For the ICHS in particular, additional cuts would further compromise its mission of serving the needs of the Asian and Pacific Islander community. The center now derives half of its funding from reimbursements from subsidized health care programs, such as Basic Health, Apple Health for Kids, Medicaid and Medicare. Another fifteen percent comes from government grants or other government programs.

“ICHS already has trimmed its expenses repeatedly over the last three years,” said Batayola. “So there are very few places left to cut other than services and programs, unfortunately.”

The grim budget forecast means that other state safety-net programs will feel the budget axe. Diane Narasaki, executive director of Asian Counseling and Referral Services (ACRS) said, “The cuts originally proposed by the Governor would have eliminated access statewide to food assistance for about 13,700 immigrants, health coverage for 27,000 immigrant children, emergency medical care for 1,300 immigrants, medical interpretation for 70,000 state residents, limited English proficient employment services, and the DSHS naturalization program for thousands of legal residents.“

“These were on top of the other cuts which disproportionately affect our community,” she said. “The Governor added back the emergency medical care.  The House and Senate are trying to restore partial funding for some of the other cuts. Without restoration of the funding for these programs, we will have a state in which many immigrants and refugees will lack access to food, healthcare, and job training and citizenship.”

Public support is essential to ensuring that the Center’s services are preserved, she said. ICHS already is engaged in several broad-based advocacy campaigns to lobby state lawmakers to restore funding. The Save Health Care in Washington campaign plans to enlist patients and advocates of community health care centers to press the legislature to restore funding for affordable health care programs.

“Despite the grim circumstances for ICHS, we still have hope that the community that came together to build this institution will come together again to help us through this rough period,” said Charles Wu, the center’s foundation board chair. “The challenge for the ICHS Foundation is to find a way to meet the funding gap left behind by the state cuts in the meantime.”

The Asian Pacific Islander Coalition of Washington State is planning an Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Day on Thursday, Feb. 17. The coalition, community advocates, and Asian Pacific Americans statewide will gather at the State Capitol Building in Olympia to urge state legislators to prevent cuts to critical services in the community. More than a thousand attendees are expected to participate.

The coalition is a statewide network of Asian Pacific Islander community organizations dedicated to promoting health and human services, economic development for small businesses, civil and human rights, equal access to education and other concerns of Asian Pacific Americans, including immigrants and refugees in Washington state.

“Asian Pacific American Legislative Day is an important opportunity for Asian American and Pacific Islander communities to advocate against the proposed health and human services cuts that would be devastating to our community,” said Narasaki, who serves as the coalition’s chair. “And also to economic development initiatives so that our community can have meaningful jobs.”

Participants for the Feb. 17 event will come from all parts of the state, including Spokane, Yakima, King, Snohomish, and Thurston counties and southwest Washington, she said. More than forty organizations have endorsed the event, which begins at 10 a.m. with a rally on the capitol campus and continues with constituent meetings with legislators from 11 a.m. to about 1 p.m. for most participants.

“The lives and well-being of our community members are at stake. Together, we will advocate to save programs critical to our community and promote jobs and workforce development,” Narasaki added.

“The clients our community’s safety net organizations serve will feel a devastating impact if these programs are not saved.  Many community organizations that rely on state funding to provide these services would no longer be able to provide them if state funding is eliminated.  That’s why Asian Pacific American Legislative Day is so important – it gives our community a chance to advocate together with our legislators to save these programs.”

The International Community Health Services Foundation, founded in 2007 to develop private funding and grant resources, plans its own advocacy efforts through its annual fundraising gala on May 21, 2011 at the Westin Hotel. “One specific way that people can help is by sponsoring a table at our event and inviting their friends to join them,” said foundation executive director Ron Chew.

“It’s so important, especially now with the growing number of community members that we serve in this fragile economy, that we continue to have the resources to sustain a healthy operation,” he said. “We have to make sure that the safety net that ICHS has provided for over thirty-eight years stays viable.”

For more information about the ICHS gala, call (206) 788-3694, or e-mail: [email protected].

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