Strained Budget Tops Legislators' Agenda

FRANKFORT, KY -- As many Kentuckians wait to see how the state legislature will handle a nearly half-billion-dollar budget shortfall, an Eastern Kentucky couple hopes lawmakers can scrape up $140,000 in state funds to keep a mobile health van operating in the mountains, reports the Lexington Herald-Leader in its Sunday edition.

Their plight shows the far-reaching effects of the state budget.

"We need the health van. We can't afford a doctor at $62 a visit," said Ann Dunn, who lives in a rural area about 15 miles from Campton with her husband, Leslie. "Legislators should raise taxes, do whatever it takes, to keep the van from shutting down."

Money for the van and for schools, state police and a multitude of other programs will be on legislators' minds when they return to Frankfort on Tuesday to complete 26 days of making law in the 2009 General Assembly.

For the last three years, the Dunns have relied on the Eastern Kentucky Mobile Health Service van to receive free medical help and medications.

Unable to work at age 40, she gets from the van medications worth about $280 a month for a bladder disorder, high cholesterol and high pressure in her eyes that can cause blindness if not treated.

Leslie Dunn, 52, a laborer with high blood pressure who says jobs these days are scarce, had a malignant melanoma removed from his arm for free. A nurse practitioner in the van had discovered the cancer.

Last July, the state reduced its funding for the van by about $40,000. In December, the state, in another round of cuts, trimmed the van's budget $100,000.

"If this money is not restored to the state budget, we will only have funds to operate this program for a few more months," said F. Rose Rexroat, administrator at Saint Joseph Hospital for the Eastern Kentucky Mobile Health Service.

The Lexington hospital administers the mobile clinic in collaboration with Appalachian Regional HealthCare and St. Claire Regional Medical Center in Morehead.

Since 2003, the van has made weekly stops in Hazel Green in Wolfe County, Blaine in Lawrence County and Ezel, Cannel City and Crockett in Morgan County to provide health care to the needy.

With an operating budget of about $359,000, it treats about 2,000 patients a year. About 63 percent of its patients are, like the Dunns, uninsured. The clinic is funded by the state and those patients who have Medicaid or some other type of medical assistance, reports the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Copyright - The Lexington Herald-Leader
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