April 10, 2007

HIV/AIDS patients hurt by change in funding

About two weeks after being tested, a client of AIDS Project New Haven found out in late January that he was HIV positive. He has since spent more than $1,200 on medical care, undergone therapy and participates in a support group.

"I am very troubled," the client wrote in a letter to U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, I-Conn. "What troubles me is why I don’t count," he wrote.

The man blasted a new formula for calculating federal assistance to municipalities and metropolitan areas for medical treatment, food and meal delivery, transportation, substance abuse, housing, education and outreach, mental health and other services provided to people living with HIV/AIDS.

The former Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency Act has been revised under the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Modernization Act of 2006. Changes to the legislation resulted in larger allocations to areas reporting jumps in full-blown AIDS cases from 2001 to 2005.

Service providers in New Haven County say cases were on the rise in those five years among people, such as Lieberman’s constituent, who are HIV positive, while statistics showed a drop in the number of people living with AIDS.

The federal funding shift is causing trepidation because New Haven is in danger of losing its needle exchange program under federal and state cuts, said Thomas Kidder, director of the HIV/AIDS division at the Hill Health Center. Intravenous drug users are a high-risk population for contracting the disease.

"You are creating a funding system that puts people like myself in an awkward place," the client’s letter says. "Do I have to be deathly ill and in need of thousands of dollars in public support before I am worthy of help in your eyes?"

Lieberman could not be reached for comment, but Connecticut’s entire congressional delegation sent letters requesting supplemental funding for the state to Michael Leavitt, secretary of Health and Human Services, and Elizabeth Duke, Health Resources and Services administrator.

Greater New Haven, which has about 1,300 reported people living with HIV/AIDS, received $3.3 million in Ryan White funds in March, about half of what social service agencies expected. Another round of funding will be granted in April but even along with private contributions, APNH Executive Director Ellen Gabrielle said it is impossible for agencies to make up half their budgets.

"To get through all this red tape, the AIDS organizations have to survive," said Kara Capone, director of programs for New Haven Home Recovery, which is losing eight subsidized housing units with cuts in Ryan White and federal Housing Opportunities for People with HIV/AIDS.

Elsie Cofield, founder and president of AIDS Interfaith Network, said her agency is left to divide 266 clients between two part-time case managers. Nicholas Boshnack, director of client services for APNH, said federal guidelines call for no more than 35 to 40 clients per case manager.

Capone and John Bradley, executive director of Liberty Community Services, said it is as if agencies are being punished for successfully slowing down the progression of the disease and helping people maintain longer and healthier lives.

Providers are hoping the public will join AIDS Project New Haven’s client in writing and calling state legislators in support of federal formula changes and requests that the state increase Medicaid funding for HIV/AIDS services.

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