Fresno County AIDS clinic Closure

FRESNO, Calif. County supervisors voted 3-2 to let the Health Department close the specialty clinic. The department has a $5 million budget shortage, but some people believe taxpayers will get stuck with a bigger bill by closing the clinic.

It's lunch time at Fresno County's specialty clinic and there are no patients in sight. Before long, the county's only clinic for HIV and AIDS patients will look like this at all hours of the day.

"These individuals who are seeking these services will have to go to other providers in the community," said Dr. Ed Moreno, the County Health Director.

The clinic will close for good on June 28, saving the county about $500,000.

"You know what? Today, every family in America is tightening their belt and we end up kind of having a similar dynamic," said Fresno County Supervisor Judy Case.

But it could come back to bite taxpayers.

"I think in the long run, we're really going to spend more money than we're saving," said Supervisor Susan Anderson. "We're going to have liability issues and just the general cost to the public health."

In the Fresno area, nearly 1700 people have AIDS. That's 18.4 AIDS cases for every 1000 people. Our AIDS rate is lower than San Francisco's, but it's higher than the rate in Los Angeles.

Fresno County's specialty clinic treated about 100 HIV patients, as well as people with other sexually transmitted diseases.

Patrick Farris was one of the patients. He's afraid people will just stop getting treatment and an AIDS epidemic could follow. "A lot of folks are scared to be treated because they're not sure where to go," he said.

Only three other Fresno County facilities treat HIV patients and they're all struggling to keep up already. Many of those patients don't have insurance, so taxpayers end up footing the bill.

Farris says the county should take the same advice its clinic gave to patients. "It's better to protect yourself and stay safe than to be sorry and have to feel it later," he said.

The specialty clinic wasn't the only victim of the budget knife. In all, the Health Department cut 47 jobs here and at other locations, including doctors and nurses at jails.

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