By William K. Alcorn
The Mahoning County Health Board is applying to the state health department for the WIC nutrition program.
If approved, the county board would reduce Mahoning WIC clinics from five to three because of funding cuts.
WIC, the Women, Infants and Children program that helps pregnant women, mothers with infants and young children eat well, has been administered since 1974 by the Mahoning-Youngstown Community Action Partnership.
“We’re giving it up,” said R. Renee Walton, MYCAP’s new chief executive officer.
The WIC program spending criteria is very restrictive. It conflicts with some of MYCAP’s other funding sources and does not cover administrative costs, which MYCAP has to keep low. Also, she said, the trend nationally is to place WIC programs within health departments.
The county health board will apply Monday for the Mahoning WIC grant, and expects to be notified of the results by mid-September, said Patricia Sweeney, county health commissioner.
“We believe we are the only bidder. But, it is a competitive bidding process and we are making no assumptions,“ she said.
Walton said losing the program is not easy.
It is “quite an emotional deal” for MYCAP’s WIC program staff who could potentially be affected. They have dealt with the WIC program for a long time and face possible upheaval of their jobs, she said.
“Even if they keep their jobs, they would be new employees with the health department. I really wish I had more time because I think there is a way to keep WIC. But the process started before I came,” Walton said.
If the Mahoning County District Board of Health is successful in getting the WIC contract from the Ohio Department of Health the program would initially be reduced from five satellite sites to three.
The sites proposed by the county health board are: The Youngstown City Health Department, 345 Oak Hill Ave., Youngstown; the Mahoning County Health Department, 50 Westchester Drive, Austintown; and the Boardman WIC, 3920 Hillman Way.
WIC sites in Sebring, Struthers, MYCAP on Fifth Avenue in Youngstown and the Westchester WIC at 122 Westchester Drive in Austintown would be closed.
Women, Infants and Children programs, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and in Ohio administered by ODH, have received severe funding cuts around the country, said Sweeney, explaining the proposed reduction in the number of sites.
The local WIC funding was reduced from $1.4 million for Fiscal Year 2012 to $900,000 for Fiscal Year 13, about a one-third cut, she noted.
Despite the reduced number of WIC clinics, Sweeney said transportation should not be a serious problem because there is public transportation available to all of them. The problem is in outlying areas, such as the Sebring WIC clinic. “As soon as possible, we would expand back there,” she said.
She said the health department’s interest in administering the Mahoning WIC program is because the missions of WIC and the county health department of making sure people have access to health food “match perfectly. Our mission would be furthered by having the WIC program.”
Also, she said the funding does not allow for paying an outside source to administer the program; and most WIC programs in the state are within health departments. Being under the umbrella of the county health department also provides easy access to its well-child clinic and childhood immunizations and nutrition counseling.
Sweeney said if the health department receives the WIC contract, positions will be posted for health professionals, such as registered and licensed dietitians and health assistants in order to get up and running as soon as possible.
There is a lot of training that goes into working in the WIC program, and someone who has knowledge of WIC’s computer programs and policies and procedures could have an advantage. Anyone who has the credentials will be welcome to apply, Sweeney said.