It may not rank as one of Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s bigger mistakes — except to the thousands of low-income Schenectady residents whose health care it jeopardized — but eliminating state funding for the city’s free health clinic last year was a mistake nonetheless. The Legislature and Gov. David Paterson will have a chance to correct it in the coming weeks as they hammer out a new budget, and it won’t take a lot of money to do so. But given the tremendous health care bang the clinic provides for relatively few bucks, lawmakers absolutely should make some funding available for it.
On a budget of roughly three-quarters of a million dollars — nearly all of which goes for prescription drugs — the clinic treats 7,500 county residents per year. Most of them are people who can’t afford health insurance but make too much money to qualify for Medicaid. Many are seniors.
What has enabled the clinic, located at 600 Franklin St., to operate so cheaply is the use of volunteer labor: All its doctors and nurses — many of whom are retired — donate their services. In fact, the clinic has but one employee, its administrator, on the payroll.
Why Spitzer decided that the state Health Department, which under Gov. George Pataki had given the clinic $200,000 in 2006, should no longer be allowed to help, is baffling, given how much more efficiently it provides acute medical care than a hospital emergency room. There has always been a suspicion that the decision was politically motivated, given that Republicans helped get the clinic started and that it was Pataki who helped keep it going. Now it still seems to be a Republican project, with Sen. Hugh Farley the only one working on its behalf in the state Legislature.
It may be a tough budget year, but lawmakers need to realize that it would be tragic for this clinic to go out of business. And that could happen, given increasing budget woes at the county, which last year provided a $100,000 bailout.