Havre Daily News/Lindsay Brown
Kathy McGowan introduces a round-table discussion Wednesday afternoon in the fireside room at the HRDC building.
Only one legislator attended a forum in Havre Wednesday where a score of health care professionals talked about their priorities for legislation in the next lawmaking session in Helena.
Sen. -elect Greg Jergeson, D-Chinook, participated in an hour-long discussion of what the health care providers and public health officials from Hill and Blaine counties want to see, and are afraid of seeing, in the 2013 Legislature.
No other local legislators attended the forum, sponsored by Early Childhood Investment Team of Hill County, Blaine County Health Department, District 4 Human Resources Development Council, Hill County Health Department, Alliance for a Healthy Montana and the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.
Kathy McGowan, representing the Alliance for a Healthy Montana, said people in the health care field and other support services who work to improve health issues and help people who are having problems need to present a strong, unified face to the state government to stop or reverse a trend of cutting funding for services.
“I don’t know what the answer to all of that is, ” said McGowan, who moderated the session. “I guess the answer should be we should not ignore our foundation for our state. I don’t care if it’s education or providers or child care providers or what. …
“I’m not very optimistic, to tell the truth, and I really do think it does get back to what we value as a society, ” she added. “We don’t seem to value taking care of little kids or our elderly. … All those preventive kinds of strategies, that we know work, don’t get funded because it’s easy not to. ”
Several issues were discussed about what needs funding and what cuts to funding have to be prevented, including finding ways to bring more health care providers to the state, helping with prevention programs and support services, and improving the child care situation in Montana.
Danielle Golie, director of the Hill County Health Department, said one crucial area is state support of child care. She said one of the people who works in her department is struggling to pay for child care so she can go to work, noting that the rates for helping people pay for child care, and the rates for child care providers, have not been increased for several years.
“If her day care costs go up, she’ll have to quit, ” Golie said.
Several people said cuts in funding for support services, which are likely to be targeted again, have made it difficult to help people get through difficult times and improve their situation.
Andi Daniel, director of Employment and Training at HRDC, said stretching the budget has led to two case managers covering huge regions in the work program for people on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
If funding is cut for case managers, Daniel said, she doesn’t know what will happen to with the program in this area, which helps people find training and jobs to get work experience, communications skills and life skills so they can get off the TANF program. If the case managers are cut, people will be staying on TANF longer, she said.
McGowan agreed that if the state government is not helping people find ways to succeed, to get jobs, the actions seem pointless.
“I have not seen, especially in last several years, where our (legislators’) actions in Helena reflect any value for the services that are provided (by the people) in this room …, ” she said. “You might as well not support people who are trying to work if you’re not going to provide them with child care and all of the other things. Let’s just have everybody go back on Welfare. ”
She said, on a positive note, that she has seen success. A few sessions ago a group of people — including representatives of health care, mental health, law enforcement, county attorneys and community representatives from all across the state — worked with a legislative committee all session and convinced the committee members to pass three bills supporting crisis services.
“Those crisis bills have been a huge boon to the entire state, ” McGowan said, adding that an initiative now is under way to extend the services from those programs.
“I’d like to leave this on an optimistic note, because there are things we can do if we band together and work, ” she said. “People saw the need, banded together and pounded on the table and insisted, and it happened. ”