SF public health department sees record $2 billion budget

Mayor Ed Lee’s proposed $8.9 billion city budget announced Monday set aside a record $2 billion for the city department with the largest operating budget historically — the Department of Public Health.

The news, according to officials, comes at a time when the department is focusing on expanding services that are affordable, including Obamacare.

The Mayor fulfilled the Health Commission’s budget ask, which included restoring $8.8 million in previously planned reductions to community-based programs dealing with mental health, substance abuse and other issues. He also granted an additional $17.5 million for fiscal year 2015-16 for a total of $2.03 billion, and $21 million more for fiscal year 2016-17 amounting to $2.06 billion.

The added funds, representing an increase of about 2 percent from the department’s current budget, will go toward dozens of citywide initiatives with health components like housing, homelessness and reaching The City’s Vision Zero goal of eliminating pedestrian fatalities.

“It’s a significantly positive budget for us,” said the department’s Chief Financial Officer Greg Wagner. “I think it’s really unprecedented and our job is to make sure we make good use of it and plan for the future.”

Fiscal year 2015-16 is the first time community-based programs will be restored to their full funding levels since the leaner budget years from the recession, Wagner said.

In line with the Mayor’s stated priorities to support The City’s most vulnerable residents and address affordability challenges, the department will work on providing more integrated patient care to underserved populations. That includes a range of services, from a more streamlined system for connecting people with Obamacare through the Affordable Care Act, to access to the new San Francisco General Hospital trauma center.

Among the initiatives that received additional funding from the Mayor’s budget is the expansion of medical respite — a program providing beds to homeless patients who need care and would otherwise be stranded on the streets. The $4.6 million to be allocated in fiscal year 2015-16 will go toward preparing a newly leased building adjacent to the existing respite center on Mission Street that will hold 30 more beds.

“It’s extremely important,” Margot Antonetty, acting director of housing and urban health for the department, said of the additional funds. “This is the population that suffers the most out on the streets because even the shelters sometimes cannot keep them and even then, it takes a toll on other services they can provide.”

The city budget must go through the Board of Supervisors and the Mayor is expected to sign it Aug. 1.

“We’re definitely not taking it for granted,” Wagner said. “We’re not going to sit back and relax. We’re going to focus on how the dollars that we have, how can we do a better job of giving people services. ”

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