Clinic for injured city employees is on verge of closure

Dire budget estimates threaten a health clinic for city employees at San Francisco General Hospital, but an effort is planned to keep it open.

At a hearing held before the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee on Wednesday, city employees turned out to oppose the closure of the Worker’s Compensation Clinic that, after a Health Commission vote, is scheduled for March 15.

Dr. Mitch Katz, head of the Department of Public Health, said during the hearing that the Health Commission has also adopted a set of principles about budget cuts, including a principle to protect programs for “vulnerable populations, meaning people that have no choice” — programs such as mental health or substance abuse.

Closure would save the department $736,453, according to Public Health documents, and all employees would be reassigned. The clinic is set to stop taking patients Friday.

For the fourth time in three years, the Department of Public Health has recommended the closure of the most popular clinic for The City’s nearly 28,000 employees to go should they be injured on the job. This year the closure was fast-tracked as a result of impending budget cuts threatening programs.

The Department of Public Health is bracing for cuts in state funding that could be as much as $6.8 mil-

lion under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s current budget proposal. The City is also facing a nearly $230 million budget shortfall, which could affect the department, too.

The Worker’s Compensation Clinic at San Francisco General Hospital is one of nine health clinics that city employees can go to for treatment for workplace injuries, but the clinic at SFGH is the only public clinic and receives roughly 9,000 visits a year — about half of all worker’s compensation cases in The City, Katz said.

The rest of the clinics are run privately, and services, such as case management, are handled offsite. The case management is handled on site and free of charge at SFGH.

“The workers of The City including all of you, myself, we do have a set of choices,” Katz told the supervisors. But there was no data measuring the efficiency or inefficiency of the clinic because of the complications surrounding the gathering of that data.

Opponents to closure include teachers, Muni operators, firefighters and nurses. They allege that accounting practices at the private clinics would keep The City from saving any money because of increased worker’s compensation cost elsewhere, including, for instance, case management work being done off-site by insurance companies, said Dr. Stephen Born, the medical director for SFGH Occupational Health Services.

The closure would result in costs moving from one city department to another — “from one pocket to another,” Born said.

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, who asked for the hearing, said he will seek some legislative measure to keep the clinic from closing.

“This just does not smell right or feel right,” Mirkarimi said.

dsmith@examiner.com

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