When a homeless man is diagnosed with HIV, he needs treatment. When a teen learns she’s pregnant, she needs parenting advice. When a veteran struggles to cope, he needs behavioral health services.
In the great Central Valley, thousands of residents suffering from those and other issues don’t turn to their counties for help. They rely on nonprofits like Clinica Sierra Vista to serve them, treat them and advocate on their behalf. Ultimately, they need hope, and hope doesn’t always live in a government office.
If a bill recently passed in the State Assembly and destined for a vote in the Senate becomes law, millions of Californians will lose the programs and services they desperately need and the care of medical, social and behavioral health professionals they’ve come to trust.
So why would such an ill-conceived and potentially devastating initiative get even one vote? Simple. Backed by the powerful Service Employees International Union, AB 1250 is a brazen attempt to add union jobs to public payrolls across the state. The bill’s author, Reginald Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles, once worked at SEIU, a conflict of interest that discredits his stated intention in introducing the bill – to hold county governments to greater standards of accountability.
Still, Senate Democrats face a dilemma that pits two of their traditional constituencies against each other: Unions vs. the most vulnerable among us.
But it’s really no choice at all.
AB 1250 seeks to hamstring county government officials from exercising their duty to provide the best services available to their constituents by introducing miles of red tape and onerous restrictions on nonprofits and other partners. The legislation, in seeking to prop up unions at taxpayer expense, would require nonprofits to jeopardize the privacy – and potentially the safety - of their employees and require extensive audits that would inevitably disrupt services to those who need them.
A partial list of programs and services in the crosshairs in Kern and Fresno counties alone includes behavioral health and crisis management; medical care; parenting and nutritional education; housing and support for the homeless; HIV care; First 5 early education efforts and other initiatives that benefit children; gang prevention; and Medi-Cal enrollment assistance.
That the vulnerable would suffer is a given, but what about the taxpayer? Could counties more efficiently provide services and programs to these populations?
No. And county administrators themselves are the first ones to tell you so. The California State Association of Counties is just one of more than 100 organizations – groups so disparate from one another that they rarely find common cause - to voice opposition to AB 1250.
The legislation would also unravel decades of working partnerships between counties and nonprofits, bonds that represent a model to the country of how to deliver programs and services to the people who need them in the most efficient manner possible.
In Kern County, Clinica Sierra Vista opened a family medicine residency program three years ago when the county hospital, under financial duress, was forced to end its own program. Our residents now train with physicians at the county hospital in a partnership that brings doctors to the valley, one of the most underserved areas of the country.
When the Housing Authority of Kern opened an affordable housing complex in a blighted area of Bakersfield, Clinica Sierra Vista built a health center on the ground floor to offer medical services to the neighborhood.
In Fresno, Clinica Sierra Vista and Fresno Unified School District are working together to place health centers on campus. This public/private partnership is proving to be a great success at Gaston Middle School, which sends students in need of care to the school-based health center to be treated immediately. The primary-care physicians then work with the child’s family for follow-up treatment in a relationship among the center, family and school that is working seamlessly – so well in fact, that six more Clinica community health centers are planned at Fresno campuses.
These public/private partnerships exist throughout California. They’re tended, tweaked and nurtured over time to reflect the needs, evolution and unique character of each community they serve. They endure because they enlist the best ideas, the best people and the best solutions for serving the vulnerable.
AB 1250 is not a choice between supporting union men and women against big business. If the state senate passes this sham of a bill, millions of the most vulnerable Californians will suffer for it.
Stephen Schilling is CEO of Clinica Sierra Vista, a federally qualified community health center that serves 150,000 patients in Kern, Fresno and Inyo counties.