LA GRANDE - About 1,500 Union County low-income residents lost their Oregon Health Plan coverage or saw it drastically reduced about 10 months ago.

For many, this has meant the loss of medical, dental or vision coverage; no money for medications for mental health problems; no insulin for diabetic care; no carfare for trips to the doctor; no childcare.

La Grande's Center for Human Development started working on the problem in February with its Client Critical Need Fund. Suzanne Madden, a mental health counselor for CHD, works part time coordinating the new program.

Voluntary payroll deductions from Madden's fellow employees are one of many sources of support for the new program. Community Connections, La Grande churches, individuals and organizations also have responded.

Madden described her job as working to "recreate the tools to maintain the safety net of supportive services."

Much remains to be done.

"We're just beginning to get the word out," Madden said.

Some services are being provided by volunteer organizations.

Dollars for Life is a joint effort of CHD and Community Connections. It operates a program similar to the CHD employee deduction plan.

Madden said, "the faith communities have been really impressive." With $414,000 spent yearly in WIC vouchers, the United Methodist Church has developed a Simple Cooking for Families program run by volunteers. Don Voeks has organized a communications and relationships service through Zion Lutheran Church.

EOU students and other individuals and church groups also have stepped in to help provide services. For more information, Madden can be reached at 962-8873.

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