By a 3-2 vote on Tuesday, the Fresno County Board of Supervisors approved cuts to the Department of Public Health's budget, including shutting down the county's only AIDS clinic by June 28. The cuts were made to offset DPH's estimated $5 million budget shortfall for the fiscal year beginning July 1. State funding tied to vehicle license fees and sales tax has decreased, while Fresno County faces higher benefits costs.
The closure of the county's Specialty Clinic will send residents needing care either to local AIDS specialists -- two are located in the county -- or to Community Medical Centers, said Dr. Edward Moreno, public health director.
The county will continue to offer HIV screening, but officials plan to discontinue testing for STDs such as chlamydia and gonorrhea -- despite the fact that Fresno's rates for the two diseases have long been among the state's highest.
The county could end up paying more if it fails to prevent STDs, warned Patsy Montgomery of Planned Parenthood-Mar Monte.
"These cuts are just too close to the bone," said Sup. Susan Anderson, who with Sup. Henry Perea opposed the cuts.
The DPH cuts will eliminate 47 positions, including 15 currently filled, also by June 28. Anderson suggested that cuts to DPH should be discussed next month when hearings are scheduled for the upcoming budget. Other programs might then be considered for cuts, she said, adding, "We've always done public health on the cheap."
Moreno said he wanted the cuts effective sooner so the county could reap the savings as quickly as possible. Otherwise, even deeper slashing would be necessary, he said.