Letters to the Editor

Healthier babies aren’t a ‘luxury’

The current recession is about to claim its youngest victims yet.

In an effort to close a $520 million budget gap, Gov. Christine Gregoire has called for across-the-board cuts in state services.

Important programs that impact the health of low-income women and infants are in jeopardy.

This is not the time to reduce services for our most vulnerable citizens.

The Maternity Support Services program is at risk in the new budget.

There is no question our state is in a financial crisis and needs to find short-term savings, but eliminating Maternity Support Services is not the solution.

This is a cost-effective program that helps one out of three pregnant women in Washington deliver healthier babies.

In 2008-2009, more than 796 children in Kitsap County got a healthier start in life because of this program.

Eliminating it will result in even higher costs – immediately and in the long term.

As a pediatrician, I’ve seen first-hand the difference getting a healthy start can make in a child’s life.

Studies show that mothers enrolled in Maternity Support Services have a lower risk of having low birth weight babies, who are more likely to need expensive hospitalizations at an average cost of $27,500 per birth.

These babies also have higher risks of cerebral palsy, blindness, deafness, behavioral problems and other life-long disabilities.

They often require expensive special education services in our schools, impacting the already strained education budget.

These costs are passed on to all of us over the life of the child.

By continuing to invest in Maternity Support Services, we can generate real savings.

If the program is eliminated, our state will incur $5.3 million in additional hospital costs that could have been prevented.

Further, Washington will lose millions of dollars in federal matching funds.

We will suffer local impacts, too. Harrison Medical Center will be impacted by the unreimbursed portion of high-risk newborn care.

Our school system will be stressed if the number of children who require costly special education services rises.

Ultimately, this isn’t simply about balancing the budget. It’s about the right of 50,000 Washington newborns each year to the healthiest start possible.

As the governor has said in the past, the budget should reflect our values as Washingtonians.

Every baby deserves the chance to be healthy and live up to their full potential.

I hope we value programs like Maternity Support Services and choose to invest in the next generation of Washingtonians.

I want to ensure that our future in Kitsap County is a bright one with today’s healthy children becoming tomorrow’s leaders.

SCOTT LINDQUIST,

Kitsap County

Department of Health

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