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UW nurse aims to put face on health care budget cuts

Registered nurse and associate professor Betty Bekemeier wanted to see if she could quantify how cuts to maternal and child services actually impacted the health of children after their birth. (AP Photo/File)

Cutting budgets is not easy. It’s difficult to choose between what’s essential and what’s not.

Most budget writers make their decisions without really knowing the impact of their cuts, but a University of Washington researcher is trying to change that. She poured over 11 years of data to see what the results of budget cuts really mean.

Registered nurse and associate professor Betty Bekemeier looked at more than 100 county health departments in Washington and in Florida.

She wanted to see if she could quantify how cuts to maternal and child services actually impacted the health of children after their birth. This was not pre-natal care, but services like nutrition advice for moms, education and the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program, and Bekemeier found budget cuts in these programs had a direct correlation to the birth weight of children.

“When you cut those services, you get an increase in low birth weight,” Bekemeier said. “You have more babies born with these devastating health outcomes.”

The opposite also held true. The more the counties spent on these programs there was a decrease in low-birth-weight babies.

Low birth weight is listed as kids being born at 5 pounds, 8 ounces or below. Those kids are usually premature and can have a lifetime of chronic health problems.

Bekemeier said seeing the real-world outcome of these cuts should help health departments decide what programs to cut. “As we look at where to trim budgets, folks need to think very carefully about what this could mean, particularly in the area of maternal child health,” she said.

According to Bekemeier, the decisions on these cuts are usually made without really knowing what the impact on the community will be. She’s hoping her data will help budget writers understand the importance of this maternal care.

She said it’s a kind of pay now or pay later kind of situation. Counties can pay for these services now and reduce the number of low-birth-weight babies, which means fewer dollars will have to be spent on their health care if they develop chronic illnesses in life.

About the Author

Chris Sullivan

Chris Sullivan is a traffic reporter for KIRO Radio 97.3 FM. He cares deeply about the amount of time you spend sitting in Seattle traffic.

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