The Kansas City Police Department’s budget in the coming year is pegged at almost $242 million. The Fire Department will get around $155 million.
Meanwhile, the Kansas City CARE Clinic will receive $500,000 to provide health care services to the indigent.
Guess which organization City Hall has decided to closely scrutinize by combing over its expenses and outcomes?
Health Department Director Rex Archer and others this year are taking a hard look at how safety net providers, including the clinic, are using property tax revenue created by the city’s health levy.
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Archer and City Manager Troy Schulte said in interviews that taxpayers’ funds must be efficiently used for the highest priority services. It does make good sense to examine how indigent care providers use $31 million a year; more than 80 percent of that goes to Truman Medical Center.
CARE Clinic CEO Sheri Wood said this week she’s fine with justifying how her group spends public funds. But she correctly added, “Kansas City has never come close to covering the cost of caring for the indigent.”
That brings us to another problem with this picture.
When inflation is taken into account, City Hall is actually spending millions less per year on indigent care than it once did.
That’s despite the fact that voters in 1989 and in 2005 more than tripled the health levy — after city officials backed campaigns designed to tap into voters’ interests to care for the poor. “Save Lives!” was the campaign slogan 11 years ago.
Meanwhile, city officials have increased the diversion of millions of dollars in levy funds to general Health Department expenses and other projects.
Just this year, City Council member Scott Wagner at the last minute asked the Kansas City Health Commission to spend more than $1 million on a new mental health assessment facility on the East Side.
In an interview, Wagner made a good case for the project and its ability to serve people — but not a compelling one for why the money had to come from the health levy.
The city’s review of indigent care funds recently stunned Truman and other safety net providers when they saw a report prepared by officials working for the Health Department. It included formulas for the “equitable allocation of health levy funds.”
The first proposal slashed total funding by almost $8 million a year. Truman would lose the bulk of that amount, “based on reported decreases in encounters” with patients.
At a Health Commission meeting earlier this month, the providers and commission members ran through the six proposals in the report. They quickly discarded the doomsday scenario and eventually recommended one that fell in line with what Mayor Sly James and Schulte had included in their proposed 2016-17 budget, up for adoption next Thursday.
Essentially, it would trim funds for Children’s Mercy Hospital and the Samuel U. Rogers Center when compared to current funding, while giving a bit more to Truman, the Kansas City CARE Clinic, Swope Health Services and Northland Health Care Access.
At one point in the Health Commission meeting, a few representatives of the health care providers tried to alter the allocations. However, they were just jockeying among themselves for crumbs of funding rather than trying to make sensible changes.
Archer said the work being done for his agency will give the city better ways to evaluate future health levy spending.
Again, close reviews of taxpayer funds are admirable.
Which brings up this question: Who’s going to examine whether the Health Department is responsibly using $11 million in health levy funds that it’s scheduled to get this year?