California County AIDS Office Could Close Under Budget-Cutting Proposal; Advocates Express Concern
HIV/AIDS advocates in Santa Clara County, Calif., on Thursday at a community hearing expressed concern about the county's proposal to shut down its HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Program as part of a plan to cut $2.3 million from the health department's budget, the San Jose Mercury News reports. County Chief Executive Pete Kutras in an attempt to pare down the health department's $90 million budget requested the changes to the program, which provides HIV/AIDS testing, treatment and social services for patients though a combination of local, state and federal funding. Under the plan, some of the HIV/AIDS program's services would be incorporated into another agencies responsible for tuberculosis, disease control and HIV/AIDS.
Kevin Hutchcroft, director of the HIV/AIDS program, said, "This has unfolded very quickly," adding, "These are very serious Draconian cuts. In the fourth largest county in California, to not have a designated HIV/AIDS office strikes me as just not acceptable." Clark Williams, a consultant for community HIV/AIDS service providers, said that because the proposal likely would eliminate Hutchcroft's position, the county would not have "a public face" on AIDS, which "sends a very scary message that HIV is no longer a concern." He added, "That could be devastating and result in new infections." A spokesperson for the federal Health Resources and Services Administration, which provides about $3.4 million in HIV/AIDS grants to Santa Clara County annually, said it is not likely that the county's proposed elimination of its HIV/AIDS program would jeopardize the federal grants. However, community AIDS workers said that because counties have to compete for the funding, it is necessary to have an HIV/AIDS "czar" to help negotiate federal bureaucracy and gain money for prevention, treatment and testing, according to the Mercury News. Bob Sillen, executive director of Santa Clara County's health and hospital system, said the proposal is only "preliminary" and other county services are facing even larger cuts. County officials also said that the cuts might not take effect until 2006, according to the Mercury News (Feder Ostrov, San Jose Mercury News, 8/7).