PhillyClout could hear the relief in City Council President Anna Verna's voice today when she spoke about "finally, finally" dealing with an administration willing to fund the city's Health Centers. Council fought for years with Mayor Street, trying to increase funding to the centers, which treat the working poor. Street in 2006 promised to spend $1.6 million to increase staff at the centers but then sat on the money and told the Department of Public Health to cut it from the budget, infuriating Verna and others on Council.
Dr. Donald Schwarz, the city's new health Commissioner, told Council today that his department is using $3 million in the budget Mayor Nutter has proposed to start on July 1 to increase staffing and reduce waiting times for health center appointments. The wait for a first visit averages 55 days now, down from 60 at this time last year. Schwarz wants to get that down to 30 days and said he could accomplish that by June 2010. Verna asked what it would take to get the wait down by June of next year. Schwarz said an additional $1.1 million would get the job done.
While the wait to see a doctor is getting shorter, the time to see a dentist in a health center is getting longer. Schwarz said the wait for a first dentist appointment was 24 days last March but has now gone up to 34 days. The department is recruiting to fill vacant dentist posts. Recruiting pharmacists has also been a challenge, Schwarz said.
"I just feel very, very encouraged by what the doctor has said today," Verna said. "I think that this is the first time that we're finding that at least we're going to see quite a bit of improvement in the Health Department."