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County to halt services to mothers, pregnant women at fort

Clients will have to drive to Barstow clinic

FORT IRWIN • The San Bernardino County Department of Public Health plans to shut down its social services office for mothers of young children and pregnant women at Fort Irwin early next year.

The county’s Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Program, which has 500 clients at Fort Irwin, will close in February of 2010 due to a shrinking budget, according to Jim Lindley, director of public health for the county. The WIC Program provides women with children under age 5 from low-income households with food vouchers if the mothers attend classes on topics like nutritional education and pregnancy health.

Fort clients will have to travel to Barstow’s clinic, which will expand its hours from an appointment-only basis to Monday through Thursday and every other Friday, Lindley said.

Heather Sowder, who has been living at Fort Irwin while her husband has been deployed to Iraq, used to visit the fort’s WIC office with her now 14-month-old daughter, Cheyenne. With the fort’s large population of young mothers, Sowder said there’d typically be six women waiting in line at the office waiting to get food vouchers or to sign up for programs. Sowder, 24, said she thinks having to drive to Barstow to get the services would be problematic.

“I think that’ll make it completely not worth it to get benefits,” she said.

The wives of junior enlisted officers, who typically get lower pay, are often the ones seeking aid like food vouchers, Lindley said. Junior enlisted officers, an E-1 to an E-4, can annually earn between $15,534 to $21,931.20, according to the Army Web site’s basic pay rates for 2009.

Deputy Chief of Staff Mary O’Toole from the County Supervisor’s office met with Fort Irwin leaders and WIC staff on post Thursday to discuss how to handle the office’s impending closure, according to David Zook, spokesman for Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt.

The county is looking at providing transportation to Fort Irwin mothers to the county department of health clinic in Barstow, according to Zook. It has not been determined whether the Army or the county would pay for the transportation, he said. Another alternative would be for the Barstow clinic’s WIC workers to train Army staff to teach nutrition classes, provide counseling and distribute food vouchers, Zook said.

The county wants to delay closing the fort facility “until there is a suitable alternative,” said Zook, but did not specify how long the county would be willing to keep the doors open.

Fort Irwin provides a New Parent Support Program, which offers parenting lessons, instructional parent-child playtimes, and home visits, but does not give out financial assistance, said program coordinator Kahalia Anderson. Families needing help have to go to the Army Emergency Relief office, which has a food bank and lending closet, Anderson said.

According to Lindley, the county is having to cut back on staffing due to an increasingly limited budget and is also closing its WIC Program in Adelanto and moving those clients to the Victorville and Hesperia offices.

Contact the writer:
(760) 256-4122 or elee@desertdispatch.com

 

How to get services

To make an appointment for the Women, Infants and Children Program at either the Fort Irwin (Building 1034) or Barstow (301 East Mountain View) locations call (800)472-2321.

For more information on WIC and how to apply, check the county’s Web site at www.sbcounty.gov/wic.


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