July 16, 2009
The Open Door Community Health Centers' clinics in Arcata and Eureka this month ceased administering the needle-exchange program they have run for nearly a decade. Humboldt County is exploring its options for another way to administer the NEP, but that may prove difficult without a reliable funding stream, said Barbara LaHaie, programs director with the county Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors authorized the NEP in 2000 but never ran or funded it. Several providers -- including Open Door, Redwoods Rural, and Mobile Medical -- have run the outreach under the supervision of Dr. Ann Lindsay, the county's health officer.
"It's hard for anybody to imagine how big the program got," said Cheyenne Spetzler, Open Door's chief operating officer. In 2008, the Open Door clinics in the two cities exchanged more than 190,000 needles -- demanding huge shipments and creating big demands on storage space.
The NEP depended chiefly on grant funding, Spetzler said, but most grants pay only for the syringes, not program administration. Maintaining a full-time NEP administrator became increasingly hard to justify, she said, in light of declining clinic funding and the anticipation of further cuts in state money.
"It doesn't feel good to have to do this," Spetzler said, listing the positive effects of the NEP: "We really impacted the level of hepatitis C in the community. And we haven't had those reports of needles in playgrounds and stuff like that in a long time."
Help may be on the horizon, however, in the form of federal funding. A funding proposal introduced Friday by Democrats in the US House would end the long-standing ban on federal funding for NEPs.
Regardless, Susan Buckley, the director of HHS' Public Health Branch, said the county will work to ensure the NEP continues operating.