Community members made one final push to have $3 million in Westchester County funds returned to community health centers located in Mt. Vernon, Peekskill and Ossining during a town hall meeting in Peekskill Thursday night.
County legislators Catherine Borgia, D-Ossining; MaryJane Shimsky, D-Hastings; Bill Ryan, D-White Plains; Alfreda Williams, D-Greenburgh; and Lyndon Williams, D-Mount Vernon, attended the event, which took place at the Park Street A.M.E. Zion Church.
Alan Steiner, board chairman for Hudson River HealthCare in Peekskill, said the $3 million that county Executive Robert Astorino cut from community health centers in his $1.7 billion budget proposal are funds essential to providing health services throughout the county.
“We have a contract with the county to provide baby clinic services and other services and without that money, we won’t be able to have the funds we’ve had in the past to provide those services,” Steiner said.
When explaining the cuts, Astorino has noted that the three health centers have strong surpluses, with combined assets of $57 million and that the salaries of their three top executives total nearly $1 million.
The county Board of Legislators has since restored those and other cuts to the budget, but Astorino can still veto the additions that have made. In that scenario, county lawmakers would need a supermajority of 12 or more votes to override Astorino’s vetos.
“This isn’t the first time we’ve been through this exercise and it’s just a shame that the people who are affected by this are the one who don’t have the voices that other people with power, money and influence are the ones to have the services that they rely on threatened,” Steiner said.
Steiner said the health center does have assets, but most of it is tied to the buildings the center owns and uses.
“Over the years, we’ve been able to buy the buildings that we have our services in and it’s not like we can sell those,” Steiner said. “We are we going to provide the services if we don’t have the capital that’s represented by our building to do it.”
Steiner also defended the salaries made by health center executives.
“The fact that you work for a nonprofit doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t make a decent living,” Steiner said. “If you compared what health center directors make to what hospital CEOs make, it pales in comparison.”
Peekskill resident Genetta Rodriguez said she understands that services need to be be cut if taxes aren't raised. But she said local lawmakers should go to Albany and ask state representatives to start taking cuts in their own benefits.
“We can save a lot of money there and it will trickle down, save jobs, save a lot of tax money and we wouldn’t be hurting the way we are,” Rodriguez said. “A lot of them don’t need it.”
Liana Fixell, the coordinator of special programs at Open Door Family Medical Center, said the cuts that proposed by Astorino are the ones that are going to affect the way communicable diseases are treated locally in terms of treatment, follow up care and prevention.
“Those are mandated services that have to be done,” Fixell said. “They’re obviously very important services. Our argument is that we do them better. If they’re going to be done, they should be done by the community health centers as opposed to county clinics, which we already know from years past just don’t work as well as we do.”