Proposed health department cuts include HIV programs

Proposed health department cuts include HIV programs

May 7th, 2011 by Dan Whisenhunt in News

With funding for family planning services at the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department up in the air, the agency's budget request shows that it also plans to cut back HIV/AIDS programs.

The department's request calls for cutting 31.6 percent, or $107,473, out of the HIV/AIDS prevention budget and 12.5 percent, or $27,436, out of the HIV/AIDS case management budget.

The department's current budget request does not factor in what it will lose when the city-county sales tax agreement expires this month, costing the county $10.5 million annually.

"I do anticipate cuts, and I really don't know where," Administrator Becky Barnes said. "Those decisions have not been made."

Finance Administrator Louis Wright said those decisions won't be made until the middle of June. The fiscal year ends June 30.

Tammy Burke, director of clinical services, said the cuts will mean eliminating one full-time and two part-time jobs.

Burke said the department has lost grant money because other areas have higher rates of sexually transmitted disease.

"If you do your job well, you lose funding because your STD rates drop," she said.

This week, county commissioners voted to reject a $581,700 family planning grant amid concerns that taxpayer money was being used to pay for abortions. Commissioners later reconsidered and tabled that action to gather more information.

Commissioner Mitch McClure, whose questions about abortion led to the "no" vote, said Friday he is satisfied that the so-called morning-after pill that is part of the family planning program does not cause abortions. The commission is set to discuss the issue again May 18.

Commissioner Chester Bankston said he is against the department dispensing the morning-after pill and condoms. He said he's not sure what parts of the program he would support.

Commissioner Fred Skillern said he wants to vote for the health department budget all at once, and asked why the family planning vote was separate.

Barnes said commissioners must approve all the department's grants before they can be included in the budget.

Commissioner Warren Mackey said he's "extremely concerned" about cuts to the Health Department.

"We're not talking about supporting abortions," Mackey said. "We're talking about prevention and educating people about the impact and ramifications of unsafe sex."

State Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga, brings two perspectives to the discussion: she was a county commissioner from 1998 to 2005, and she's also a clinical nurse specialist.

She is concerned about the cuts' impact on family planning and prevention.

As a representative, she said, she has worked hard to secure grants for Hamilton County's health department.

She asked, "If we reject this kind of money, what kind of impact would it have in the future when it comes to budget time?"