D.C. AIDS providers protest de-funding (FCN, 03-17-2005)
WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com) – HIV/AIDS providers, stunned by the city’s recent de-funding of their programs, received a reprieve with a three-month extension to continue serving patients until the city’s administrative chaos is worked out.
It’s considered a small victory for residents of the District, which has the highest per capita HIV/AIDS infection rate in the country, with Black women leading the infection rate.
“This extension of funding is what I recommended when I testified before Councilman David Catania. This problem needs to be sorted out, but services don’t have to be interrupted while that happens,” explained Dr. Abdul Alim Muhammad, board chair and medical director of the Abundant Life Clinic (ALC), who criticized the city for its de facto suspension of services without any explanation.
When the clinic’s staff was notified in February that their funding was being eliminated, they first thought of the patients who would have nowhere to go for treatment. They immediately began a plan of action with other providers in the same situation.
The service providers met Mar. 14 with Dr. Gregg Pane, D.C. director of the Department of Health, to express their discontent with the new way the city is doing business in the HIV/AIDS Administration. The meeting hosted the most prominent AIDS agencies in the city, including the Whitman Walker Clinic, Us Helping Us, Damien Ministries and the Women’s Collective.
“There were over 40 agencies there and it was a big mess,” explained Michael Muhammad, executive director of the ALC. “The agencies voiced their outrage and concern over the suspension of funding, mismanagement of funds, late invoicing procedures and the excessive bureaucracy. Everyone across the city is serving patients out of their own funds and many have had to lay off staff.”
A subsequent special oversight hearing Mar. 17 with City Councilman David Catania, who heads the Committee on Health, witnessed one provider after another testify to the absurdity of the grant review process. Dr. Pane testified to the challenges of the program.
“It is the providers and this department that must work together to ensure there is no break in services, regardless of whether a grant award letter has been received,” he said.
He explained that 90 percent of the new cases in the metropolitan area are Black people, 30 percent are women, of whom 96 percent are Black.
The main issues surround questions of how much money is available to providers and who gets the money. Providers contend that the money is being misappropriated, those providers that need it don’t get nearly enough, and the process to get the money is far from fair and equitable.
The Ryan White Care Act funds care and support programs for low-income HIV-positive citizens. It was passed in 1990, reauthorized in 1996 and again in 2000, for a five-year period. The Act had its budget reduced from its FY 2004 appropriation of $2.04 billion to its current appropriation of $1.7 billion, according to an HHS press release.
HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt announced Mar. 2 the release of 174 grants, worth nearly $1.7 billion, to help all 50 states, nine U.S. territories, 51 cities hit hard by HIV/AIDS, and 64 community-based organizations.
Mr. Catania also questioned the city’s grants review process.
“It’s a corrupt process,” explained Dr. Muhammad. “They’re doing their best to cover it up. They’re going to use the same review process to analyze the grants. Will it provide different results? We don’t know. We’ve asked if they will use different reviewers and have gotten two different answers. Which version is the truth? We don’t know.”
He further contended, “More of the same confusion that got us here in the first place is contaminating the decision-making process.”
A follow-up hearing is scheduled for the next committee meeting to be held in June.