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State budget cuts include HIV/AIDS programs


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POSTED: Sunday, December 06, 2009

State Department of Health budget cuts for the fiscal year ending June 30 include money for several HIV/AIDS programs.

About $40,000 is being cut from Gregory House Programs, Hawaii's only statewide HIV/AIDS housing provider; $110,000 from two Life Foundation prevention contracts; and $157,000 for the Community Health Outreach Work Project to Prevent AIDS.

The position of HIV/STD prevention coordinator, held 19 years by Nancy Kern, also is being eliminated and she is moving to another Health Department branch.

Health Department Deputy Director Susan Jackson said, “;We know these are very important services, but we have to look at state-funded contracts and state-funded positions”; to cut costs because of declining tax revenues and the state's deficit situation.

Most HIV programs in the STD/HIV Division are federally supported, “;which is good,”; she said. “;We regret that we have to make these kinds of cuts and we've had to do this across the board in the department.”;

Jon Berliner, executive director of Gregory House Programs, decried the cuts to his program last week at a World AIDS Day ceremony Tuesday night at St. Clement's Church. Berliner received the Suzanne Richmond-Crum Award from the Health Department's STD/AIDS Prevention Branch for outstanding contributions to HIV/AIDS services in the community.

In accepting the award, Berliner noted the theme for this year's World AIDS Day addressed the need to protect human rights and “;make HIV prevention, treatment, care, housing and support accessible to all persons with HIV.”;

“;We have failed on this here in Hawaii,”; he said, saying that a Health Department official called him two weeks ago to say his program's budget was being cut by more than $40,000 effective immediately. “;That means people will become homeless,”; Berliner said.

Berliner said the cut represents 10 percent of the organization's annual state funding of $400,000. He said he had to lay off a housing case worker and that the program's state-funded rent subsidy program will be affected.

“;It's going to have a serious impact on the people we serve, and there are going to be people homeless with lack of access to health care and the ability to take medications is going to be very much challenged without a roof over their head.”;

Paul Groesbeck, executive director of Life Foundation, said the Health Department told him it is cutting $110,000 both this year and next from contracts for HIV prevention outreach to women at risk and transgender people.

“;While that is disappointing, everybody's in the same boat in this state now as far as I can tell,”; Groesbeck said in an interview. He said he will have to lay off two outreach workers.

Michael Johnson, the new director of the Community Health Outreach Work Project, said, “;We're trying to make the best of a bad situation.”;

Needle exchange is one of the primary functions of the $950,000 program, but it also does referrals, provides payments for treatment for injecting drug users, hepatitis and HIV/AIDS testing, counseling and referral, Johnson said.