Representatives from some of the hardest-hit casualties in California’s economic crisis gathered Wednesday for a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters.

Four community leaders in public health and social services talked to the packed room downtown about how cuts had affected them.

Nancy Lapolla, director of emergency medical services at the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department, called EMS a “small but mighty” organization of dedicated individuals.

A third of the organization’s $800,000 budget comes from the county’s general fund, which is under massive strain.

It’s not a mandated function, so the state doesn’t provide any funding for the program. “It’s another challenge we face” with funding and revenue, Lapolla said.

One of the many critical functions the program provides is disaster management, a category under which Isla Vista Halloween falls. Lapolla said the event classifies as a “mass casualty,” and that tents are set up for triage for injured partygoers. This year, 75 people were treated at the group’s tent, slowing down the flow of patients to already overstretched emergency rooms.

The group also certifies local paramedics and trains emergency dispatchers.

The Public Health Department’s Disaster Preparedness Program, also under pressure, is funded by government grants. Partnerships with nonprofits such as Direct Relief International and Doctors Without Walls also have been helpful, Lapolla said.

“When we look at ways to augment, we pass the burden on to other agencies,” such as the fire department or hospitals, she said of the cuts. 

Another speaker, David Selberg, executive director of the Pacific Pride Foundation, talked about the cuts the organization has languished through this year.

The group has 620 men, women and children in its countywide HIV caseload program, and the faces of those people look much different than when the group started out more than 30 years ago, Selberg said. In North County, it’s many of the working poor. In South County, it’s the homeless, substance abusers and gay men, Selberg said.

On July 28, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger used line-item veto power to cut state funding for HIV testing by $83 million. Most of the money left for the testing went to larger populations with a higher rate of infection, such as San Diego, San Francisco and Los Angeles, leaving smaller communities feeling slighted.

As a result, Pacific Pride Foundation lost 65 percent of its AIDS program budget money. “In early August, I thought we’d have to shut it down,” he said.

Selberg was able to band with other midsize counties and to wring out more funding from the state. Partnerships are key with PPF as well and have helped greatly, Selberg said.

The group was able to raise an $110,000 in its AIDS Walk this year, which also helped offset costs.

Ventura’s LGBT outreach, the Rainbow Alliance, didn’t fare so well.

The group saw its AIDS outreach program shut down completely, and Selberg said many referrals come from the Ventura office.

Kathleen Riel, program director at the Independent Living Resource Center, also spoke Wednesday. ILRC focuses on meeting the needs of disabled people and helps them live independent lives. Funding has been down for her group as well, and it has had to lay off two part-time workers, all while consumers are seeing cuts in their income, whether from layoffs or SSI reductions.

Cuts in ILRC services cause strains on other organizations, such as the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County and local thrift stores.

The last speaker, Bonnie Campbell, deputy director of Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics, said there has been an “enormous spike” in patients at the clinics, which are geared toward low-income residents who pay for services on a sliding scale according to income.

The five local clinics have seen 400 new patients a month since January, and 1,100 children were seen at the dental clinic last month. Campbell said the clinics have seen a $321,000 decrease in their budget, but the mission remains the same.

“We are here so that no one goes without health care,” she said. “It’s important that we intervene now to support our clinics.”

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at lcooper@noozhawk.com.

Lara Cooper, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @laraanncooper

— Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at lcooper@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.