A program that helps connect Sedgwick County’s poor with access to health care will go without $250,000 it had counted on for now because of political gridlock.
Four Sedgwick County commissioners couldn’t reach a majority when voting Wednesday on an agreement with the Central Plains Regional Health Care Foundation and the city to partner on Project Access. In August, commissioners voted to put $250,000 into the county’s budget to support Project Access. Wednesday’s agreement would have solidified that commitment.
Because commissioners didn’t approve the agreement, Project Access won’t get the money, which represents slightly less than a third of its budget, for now. The non-profit group hopes commissioners will reconsider when a fifth commissioner who was absent Wednesday returns.
“We’re being deluged with phone calls right now. We have patients calling asking ‘What’s going to happen to me?’ ” said associate executive director Anne Nelson. “This is a really critical decision that has been made that affects our program.”
One woman who called is fighting cancer, she said.
Commissioners Karl Peterjohn and Richard Ranzau ultimately voted against the agreement. At one point, Ranzau, who was not on the board when it approved the money last year, suggested funding the program at the same level as last year, $182,000. That effort failed on a 2-2 vote. (Note: Original post incorrectly said the vote was 3-1.)
Peterjohn asked to defer the vote until Commissioner Jim Skelton, who was absent, could be present.
The vote on postponement split, with board chairman Dave Unruh and commissioner Tim Norton opposed and Peterjohn and Ranzau in favor.
Unruh said the board had a quorum and there was no reason to put off a vote.
But there was a bigger reason that Nelson picked up on: She said it appeared obvious Unruh wanted Ranzau and Peterjohn to understand the consequences of voting “no.”
When both vote “no,” it’s usually in a 3-2 vote.
Wednesday was the first time when their “no” votes, taken together, had consequences.
“It became quite apparent that we were caught in the middle of quite a high stakes tennis match,” Nelson said.
She said she understands money is tight and that elected officials in all levels of government are making tough decisions about how to spend taxpayer money.
But she said the group was surprised and disappointed that the agreement wasn’t approved.
Nelson hopes the board will reconsider when all five commissioners are on the bench.
Project Access, a non-profit that expects to help 2,000 people this year, has served 10,130 people since 1999.
Ranzau, who was a physician assistant before taking office in January, said he understands the need for Project Access. He said it is a valid cause.
“But we can’t fund every private organization out there,” Ranzau said.
About 600 physicians and other medical professionals donate time to Project Access, and Ranzau urged others in the community to help out.
He pleaded with doctors who are not involved to “re-evaluate their position.”
“I believe in charity, but when the government makes people participate, it’s not charity,” he said of spending taxpayer money.
Unruh said later that the money was approved in August.
“This was not an addition to our budget,” he said. “All the money that was being considered was already in our budget.”
But Peterjohn, who voted against the funding in August, and Ranzau said the economy is worse now.