A Montgomery County Health Department plan to save money by reorganizing its health clinics has drawn criticism even before it has been officially proposed.
The plan under consideration by County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist, who must submit a final budget proposal in March, has raised concern that some indigent and elderly persons may not go the extra distance for health care services if some clinic operations are moved from Wheaton to Silver Spring.
The proposal, prompted by a tight budget and shrinking state and federal grants, has also caused fears among some Wheaton health center staff members, who said they do not know where they may be shuffled.
The fears and widespread rumors the proposal has generated reflect the growing uncertainty and anxiety in the county bureaucracy as every county department and agency grapples with tight budget ceilings and the dilemma of deciding what and who gets cut.
"There was a movie called 'High Anxiety,' and that's what this is," said County Information Officer Charles Maier, who has already told three of his office staff members that there is a possibility they will lose their jobs.
"We're all a little confused. We don't know where we're going," said Dr. Doris Plough, the senior physician at the Wheaton Health Center, located near Wheaton Plaza. "Some of our patients will go to Northeast, to Rockville and most to Silver Spring. For most of them, it will mean several bus transfers. There will be some who just won't go, and we'll lose the preventive health service."
The center services between 850 and 900 families in such fields as dentistry, mental health, immunization and comprehensive care for indigent children. Under the plan, the mental health and dental clinics would remain at Wheaton, while the family planning, maternity and child care services would move to the Silver Spring Center near the intersection of Colesville Road and Georgia Avenue.
Officials from the health department and the county's Office of Management and Budget stressed that the reorganization was merely one proposal of many to help the department stay within Gilchrist's tight budget guidelines.