Wednesday, March 25, 2009

State Department Cuts AIDS Programs

At a time when support services have never been more critical, The State of Nevada Department of Health and Human Services has terminated four Ryan White Part B Programs (RWPB), totaling over $750,000, effective April 5.

While The State has projected a $910 million budget deficit, RWPB programs are federally funded by a grant administered through Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), which is expected to receive a surplus of funds due to the economic stimulus package.

Aid for AIDS of Nevada (AFAN), Community Outreach Medical Center, Community Counseling Center, and the UNLV Medical School Pediatric AIDS Clinic were given little notice of the funding cuts, with only a 30-day funding termination letter. Due to the short notice, the organizations affected by the cuts are struggling to secure alternate funding to support the programs.

In the interim, medical staffing (doctors, nurses, and mental health/substance abuse counselors) has been reduced, entire programs terminated, and clinics servicing HIV prenatal women and pediatric AIDS care are facing full closure. Without the funding for these programs, all of the agencies will be forced to turn patients away, some of whom rely on these programs to survive with HIV/AIDS.

“For unborn children especially, this is a life and death decision that will have consequences far greater than the state has obviously considered,” said Dr. Echezona Ezeanolue, director of the University of Nevada School of Medicine’s Nevada Care Program. “These children, who would otherwise have a 98 percent chance to be born without the HIV virus, will more likely be born with the virus.”

Most studies conclude that for each newly diagnosed patient, the cost of care is about $25,200 per year with the average life expectancy of 24 years. In the Las Vegas area, almost 3,600 residents are living with HIV and 3,000 more are diagnosed with AIDS.

According to letters received by each organization, The State of Nevada Department of Health and Human Services no longer considers these RWPB programs as core services. According to all four organizations, the state is incorrect.

“The programs they have cut are services which the federal entity HRSA has classified as core services,” said Sherry Suggs, operations manager, Community Outreach Medical Clinic. “This means the federal oversight agency also identifies these programs as essential, medically necessary services”.

Collectively, more than 700 HIV-infected and AIDS patients will be directly and immediately impacted. Those patients who will be especially hard hit include unborn children, minorities, and out-of-care clients.

Prior to the funding and development of these programs, The Henry Kaiser Family Foundation ranked Nevada as second only to California in new AIDS cases. The study revealed that Nevada was experiencing an 82 percent increase among newly HIV-infected residents between the ages of 13 and 24 from 1999 to 2003, with Clark County accounting for 78 to 84 percent of all new HIV cases.

Despite this disheartening news, the organizations affected by these cuts are collaborating to develop a continuation of care plan. Additional funding sources are being sought as the organizations continue to ask The State questions about their plan to deal with the gap in services.

“It is our hope to continue the vital and necessary care our clients need,” said Jennifer Morss, executive director at Aid for AIDS of Nevada. “We have a responsibility to the clients and the community, and we will be persistent in seeking other means to support these programs.”

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