February 24, 2011

State worker puts human face on cuts

Lisa Fitzgerald's job will be eliminated if Gov. Paul LePage's budget is passed as proposed.

By Susan M. Cover scover@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

(Continued from page 1)

The shift takes money away from programs such as oral and dental health, bone marrow screening, substance abuse services and family planning.

Kate Brogan, vice president for public affairs for the Family Planning Association of Maine, said the group is poised to lose more than $400,000 a year, which is about a third of its state funding. They also get about $3 million in federal funds.

The association runs clinics in Augusta and in the midcoast, and provides funding for other health care centers across the state. In addition to contraceptives, it provides cancer screenings, diabetes tests and detection of heart disease, she said. The centers serve about 28,000 women, men and teenagers each year.

"For so many women, the only health care they get is at family planning centers," she said.

A $400,000 funding cut would mean clinics would have to close, and those that do remain would have to cut hours, she said. The association is meeting next week to discuss its options should the budget pass as proposed.

Fitzgerald, who said she is not normally politically active, has called some of her local legislators to try to convince them of the importance of her job. Starting March 7, lawmakers will begin consideration of the DHHS portion of the budget.

The state caseworkers in Child Protective Services focus on abuse that occurs in a child's home, Fitzgerald said. She and her co-workers -- known as "out of home investigators" -- are funded by the tobacco settlement money to look into allegations of child abuse or neglect in foster homes, group homes, or day care centers.

The current five-person unit travels the state to interview children, staff, therapists and others to determine if an allegation is true. Fitzgerald, who lives in Skowhegan, often travels to Aroostook and Washington counties.

They investigate possible sexual abuse in foster homes. They investigate when there's a child death in a foster home. They look into medical neglect if a teacher or someone else expresses a concern. On occasion, they go to hospitals or nursing homes if a child happens to be placed there.

Much of what they do can't be done over the phone.

"We need to go into the home," Fitzgerald said. "I've seen day cares with paint cans sitting beside wood stoves."

Fitzgerald, 49, has a bachelor's degree in social work from the University of New Hampshire and is a licensed social worker. She is paid about $38,000 a year, she said.

"I'm not going to go down without a fight," she said. "I'll accept whatever they dish out to me. I think it's worth fighting for."

MaineToday Media State House Writer Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at:



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