New Jersey's Bergen County Department of Health Services plans to close the county's Counseling Center in Hackensack, which has operated for 20 years and is the only clinic in the county that provides no-cost HIV testing, NorthJersey.com reports. According to NorthJersey.com, the closing could put $4 million in federal funding that Bergen and Passaic counties receive through Ryan White Program grants at risk.
According to people familiar with the center, closing the Bergen clinic will pose challenges for people without health insurance and could strain programs that provide similar services in nearby counties. Catherine Correa, director of the Ryan White Grants Division of the Paterson Department of Human Services, said last week that she is "in total disbelief this is happening." Correa added, "There will be a gap in services, and we will be out of compliance" with the requirements of the federal grant money. According to Correa -- who is responsible for securing federal HIV funding for Bergen and Passaic counties -- Bergen's health department is "absolutely putting the money in jeopardy" by closing the center.
According to Brian Hague, Bergen county spokesperson, the county decided to close the center because of budgetary constraints. Hague explained that new state funding requirements would have required the center to remain open on nights and weekends, which would have incurred substantial costs for the county. In addition, in order to receive $100,000 from the state for the center, Bergen County would have to contribute the same amount in matching funds. However, Hague said closing the clinic would not threaten federal funding because the county would still provide "public outreach and public education" on HIV. Hague said that as long as officials "fulfill that requirement," the closing will not "have any bearing on the federal grant." He added that the county's freeholder board and County Executive Dennis McNerney have not made a final decision about whether to close the clinic.
According to Hague, the North Hudson Community Action Corporation, which has a site in Hackensack, will provide HIV screening to those normally served by the Bergen counseling center if the clinic closes. However, Valerie Shedlock, coordinator of the North Hudson program, said her facility currently does not offer no-cost HIV screening and has no definite plans to offer such services at its Hackensack site in the future. In addition, Correa said that replacing the Bergen center with the North Hudson service would not bring Bergen County into compliance with federal funding requirements, which mandate that services be maintained by the governments receiving funding and not by private entities. "North Hudson is not public. It is not a government agency," Correa said. According to Tara Balsley, HHS spokesperson, in order to continue receiving Ryan White grant money, recipients also must sustain their own funding for services at a level equal to or more than what they contributed in the year prior to receiving the grant (Gartland, NorthJersey.com, 4/30).
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