HOME > ABOUT > PRESS > CLOSURE LOOMS FOR SONOMA COUNTY HIV CLINIC
Article published - December 17, 2009
Credit: PRESS DEMOCRAT
Closure looms for Sonoma County's HIV clinic
by Martin Espinoza
A plan that would shut down Sonoma County's HIV clinic in downtown Santa Rosa could get its first official approval Friday before going on to the Board of Supervisors early next year.
The plan would distribute existing government HIV funding, as well as the county's caseload of HIV patients, to three local community clinics — Southwest Community Health Center in Santa Rosa, Alliance Medical Center in Healdsburg and West County Health Centers.
The move is meant to make the most of dwindling HIV funds because these health centers receive a higher rate of federal reimbursement for medical services.
But the plan worries some members of the Sonoma County Commission on AIDS.
“I agree that the money should be spent more wisely, but why didn't this take place two years ago?” asked Lisa Albertson, the commission's outgoing chairwoman. She said that county officials have known for years that federal dollars were in jeopardy.
Herb Light, another member of the commission, said there are not enough details about the plan, which was discussed Wednesday night during a meeting with key members of the local HIV community.
“They're making everybody feel that they are very safe and that people are going to be able to receive care,” said Light. “But they don't know by whom and they really don't know where.”
The plan is expected to be finalized at Thursday's meeting of the HIV Medical Care Planning Work Group, a body of the county's public health division that was set up several months ago to figure out alternatives to a county-run clinic.
Dr. Mark Netherda, the county's deputy public health officer, said the loss of funding for the clinic, particularly from the state budget crunch, precipitated the need for finding a more cost effective way to deliver HIV and AIDS medical services.
“It may be better to close that clinic and move the financial resources in the form of grants rerouted to clinics that already have an existing infrastructure,” said Netherda.
Light, however, said there are currently no HIV doctors at the health centers being considered. The county HIV clinic has three doctors on staff, he said.
“It would only work if the three doctors they have right now can spread themselves real thin and go to these three centers to see patients,” he said.
For years, the clinic and other HIV support services have run the risk of losing about $1 million in annual federal funding because they do not serve the required minimum number of AIDS patients.
Funding from the state Office of AIDS has been slashed 65 percent, from $1.1 million last year to less than $400,000 for the current fiscal year that began in July. The reduction to the HIV clinic is about $340,000. Also, the state has eliminated HIV prevention and education funds, leaving only federal dollars.
The county HIV clinic, created two decades ago, was born during era when an HIV diagnosis was essentially a death sentence.
Because of advances in treatment, HIV has now evolved into a chronic illness not a fatal disease, said Dr. Gary Green, clinical director of Kaiser Medical Center's local HIV clinic.
“I think in a responsible manner they're going to pass the baton,” Green said. “The county has ran the HIV clinic for two decades, really beyond the call of duty.”