State health officials have turned off the financial spigot to an Eastern Kentucky health program, forcing it to stop providing low-income residents with medication such as insulin or items such as glasses and hearing aids.
The Kentucky Homeplace Program, which served nearly 22,000 Eastern Kentuckians in the last 18 months, this week became one of the most high-profile casualties of the state's budget shortfall.
"They're hitting the people who are already in pain," said Pike County Judge-Executive Wayne T. Rutherford. "These are people who fall through the system, who don't qualify for Medicaid."
The 15-year-old program that also helped connect rural residents with social services was paid for by Health and Family Services Cabinet general fund money that was passed through the University of Kentucky's Center for Health in Rural Excellence.
After the health cabinet pulled the plug on the $750,000 slated to fund Homeplace between January and July, UK chose to shut down the program.
"No one doubts it's a wonderful program," said Vikki Franklin, the cabinet's spokeswoman. "But we have to look at whether we cut services or cut connections to services."
Cabinet officials cited Homeplace as at risk for a funding cut last month after Gov. Steve Beshear announced that agencies would have to trim their budgets by at least 4 percent. But the announcement that it would close until at least July didn't come until last week.
In a statement through Rutherford's office, Homeplace director Fran Feltner said she expects the program to restart in July, albeit with a smaller budget, when the state's next fiscal year begins.
But even that's not a sure thing, Franklin said.
"It's too early to tell about next year," she said.
Rutherford, meanwhile, has continued to lobby Beshear to find some way to keep the program's doors open.
Area lawmakers say the shutdown of Homeplace could be an unfortunate harbinger of more financial pain.
"Guess what people — now we're feeling it," said Rep. Leslie Combs, D-Pike ville, who said she and her colleagues are scrambling to find other ways to keep the program going.