Elm City given HIV/AIDS grant

In response to recent federal funding cuts that have crippled the Elm City’s HIV/AIDS resource capacities, members of the Board of Aldermen and health services officials convened yesterday to authorize a $2.6 million grant that will provide the city some emergency help.

This year, federal funding for the AIDS service organization Ryan White was reduced by $1.98 million. The unexpected loss led the group to lay off 65 personnel and retract food vouchers benefiting about 1,000 existing clients, cutting off potentially thousands of patients from the care they need, officials from the organization said.

“The effects were devastating,” said Matthew Lopes ’72 EPH ’77, a co-chair of the Mayor’s Task Force on AIDS who was present at the meeting. “The AIDS Division [of New Haven] doesn’t have adequate staffing. It is imperative that we get the needed funding for the AIDS community.”

Ryan White is a federally-funded program that supports those with HIV and AIDS around the nation, serving nearly half of all registered patients. Its services include case management, mental health care, housing, nutrition, transportation, dental care and substance abuse treatment.

New Haven’s funding status changed this year when it reported 1,749 cases of HIV/AIDS, falling short of the 2,000 required to enjoy full federal-funding status and placing it into a lower funding tier, Lopes said.

Ryan White revamped its policy on fund allocation in 2006 under the HIV/AIDS Modernization Treatment Act. The disease’s increasing prevalence put pressure on the organization to prioritize areas with emerging needs and the greatest concentrations of cases, Lopes said. Hartford, which reported 1,132 cases, received a similar funding cut.

Lopes added that New Haven has historically under-reported its AIDS cases due to issues of privacy and patient anonymity.

“Though they were there, we were not able to account for all 2,000 of the required cases,” he said.

Since funding had never previously been reduced despite that history, the city’s health department had not anticipated this year’s cut, Lopes said. New Haven attempted to reverse the loss in funding by adjusting its numbers, but the efforts came too late and were not permitted under the Modernization Act’s regulations.

Even the proposed grant money — which will be split between New Haven and Fairfield, according to the number of HIV/AIDS cases in each county — will not compensate for Ryan White’s fiscal losses, officials from the organization said.

“Next year, we’re going to be in the same boat,” said Thomas Butcher, Ryan White’s project director for New Haven. “What the organization had to do was to scramble to lay off staff, notify clients — it just shook the entire system. We anticipate losses again next year.”

The Board of Aldermen unanimously approved the grant application, emphasizing the need for immediate action.

“I’m absolutely in favor of this,” Ward 26 Alderman Sergio Rodriguez said. “The HIV/AIDS community is suffering as we speak. This is critical.”

Members of the Human Services Committee also voted in favor of a grant that will provide a sum of $68,500 to the Tides Foundation Syringe Access Fund. The Tides Foundation is an initiative that works to reduce HIV infection rates among intravenous drug users, their sexual partners, and children. Forty-eight percent of HIV cases in New Haven result from contaminated intravenous syringe exchanges, making intravenous drug use the most common source of infection.

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