Efforts to save Jersey City’s Preventative Medicine Clinic may become the 2011 cause célèbre, just as restoring proposed cuts to the public library system had been until recently.
For the second City Council meeting in a row, the governing body was told of the possible impact of shifting the city’s STD/HIV testing and treatment service from the Preventative Medicine Clinic to Horizon Health Center.
A month ago staffers from the Preventative Medicine Clinic, a free facility that specializes in the treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, were informed their program would be transferred to Horizon Health as part of the city’s proposed budget cuts. Since then staffers and other supporters of the clinic, located at 115 Christopher Columbus Drive, have attended City Council meetings to register a number of concerns regarding the transfer.
More than $68,000 in STD funding could be on the line.
Citing a litany of logistical steps that still need to be taken for a smooth transfer of services, Wojcik said, “Horizon Health Center has not yet signed a contract with the City of Jersey City for the transfer of STD control services. Horizon Health Center has no signed contract with CCD Partners LP, our landlord, for any space at 115 Christopher Columbus Drive. According to [CCD], Horizon Health has shown no interest in our space.”
Horizon has a health center at 706 Bergen Ave. but it is unclear whether patients who need STD/HIV services would report there for help. Nor have the “sliding fees” it is expected Horizon would charge for a previously free service been announced.
The clinic’s lease on their current space expires on May 31, Wojcik stated. In addition, she said no one from the city’s Department of Health and Human Services has made plans to secure the continuation of a $52,983 state grant that that expires on June 30. The grant application is due May 16. Another $15,520 in cost of living adjustment funding is also on the line.
It is unclear whether Horizon Health plans to apply for this grant by the deadline.
She also raised concerns about whether Horizon Health will have all of the state-mandated certified personnel in place by the transfer date.
Unless some action is taken by the city, the Preventative Medicine Clinic will close on June 6 when the entire staff will be laid off and STD/HIV services are transferred to Horizon Health Center.
Councilman states concerns
After hearing from members of the public and clinic staff, council members are beginning to raise their own concerns about the proposed transfer of STD/HIV services.
On Wednesday, At-Large Councilman Ray Velazquez said, “There are so many important things about the clinic itself: The importance of having people who have been doing this for a while, [having people who] can deal with folks walking in through that door for the tests done in that clinic. For people dealing with these issues every single day, it’s a matter of life and death.”
Last month, when questions about the transfer of STD/HIV services to Horizon first came to light, Councilwoman Viola Richardson said she was concerned about replacing a free clinic with one that may charge a sliding fee for service since this may “discourage some people from being tested or seeking treatment.”
Other council members, including Steven Fulop of Ward E and at-Large Councilwoman Kalimah Ahmad, have asked Business Administrator Jack Kelly to supply the governing body with more information regarding Horizon Health Center and how services might differ from the current program.
In April, clinic staffer Inez Anderson said Horizon requires that patients pay for service on a sliding scale, while the current clinic offers testing and other services for free. Anderson also claimed that the state of New Jersey requires health providers to document infection rates and she questioned whether Horizon will be immediately capable of fulfilling this state mandate.
STDs on the rise in city, county
According to the Hudson County HIV/AIDS Planning Council, more than 100 people in the county are diagnosed with HIV each year. As of 2009, the latest year for which statistics are available, the total number of recorded HIV cases in Hudson County was 4,623. That is up from 4,541 cases in 2007 and 4,439 recorded cases in 2006.
Other STDs are also on the rise in Jersey City, Wojcik said last week. Citing data from New Jersey’s STD Control Program, Wojcik said that in 2010 the city ranked No. 1 in syphilis infections. She also said that between 2009 and 2010 rates of gonorrhea jumped 30 percent, while rates of chlamydia were up by 20 percent in the same period.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at email@example.com.