Hospital could lose 30 jobs to cuts

As many as 30 jobs could be slashed at the area’s publicly funded hospital as the county struggles under the weight of skyrocketing health care costs that continue to eat through tens of millions of dollars, according to a budget proposal released Tuesday.

Mostly nursing positions would suffer if an entire wing of the San Mateo Medical Center’s nursing home care unit is closed off and patients are shifted to other locations as proposed, said Heather Ruiz, director of human resources for the hospital. However, only 19 of the 30 positions are filled, Ruiz said.

The proposal is just one of a handful of belt-tightening recommendations aimed at closing the $24.9 million structural deficit that is the result of county administrators spending more than double the amount the county makes in local taxes, said Jim Saco, county budget chief.

One of the biggest drains on county funds continues to be the San Mateo Medical Center, which is in line to receive a general fund subsidy of more than $72 million, a $12 million increase over a year ago, according to the 2007-08 budget proposal. The hospital will also require a $17.9 million loan on top of a $12 million loan from a year ago.

In an effort to close the county’s structural deficit, County Manager John Maltbie has proposed cutting the county’s subsidy of the medical center in future years to about $35 million annually, the amount required by state law to care for the county’s most indigent. Where the remaining $37 million needed to run the medical center would come from isn’t yet clear.

Luckily for the county, property values have continued to rise, resulting in one-time revenues that have provided the county millions in unexpected money in recent years. If property prices tank, that could come back to haunt them if nothing is done now, officials said.

Maltbie also recommends that supervisors make no new expenditures beyond this year that do not have a specified revenue source; and eliminate the county subsidy for fire services in unincorporated areas and the Crystal Springs Sanitation districts.

“If we take prudent action now, the county can avoid the very difficult choices that other counties have had to make,” Maltbie said, referring somewhat obliquely to Santa Clara County’s $225 million deficit.

In spite of hospital overruns, exorbitant Sheriff’s Office overtime costs due to jail understaffing and salary and benefit expenses that have ballooned 28 percent since 2004-05, the county would adopt a balanced budget of $1.65 billion under Maltbie’s proposal.

Three days’ worth of hearings on the budget are scheduled to begin June 25 at 9 a.m. in the Supervisors’ Chamber, 400 County Center in Redwood City.

ecarpenter@examiner.com

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