Worcester city council to investigate defunding of HIV program
A decision by Massachusetts commissioner of public health Christine Ferguson to defund Worcester, Mass.'s only HIV testing and counseling program has prompted Worcester city council members to call for a face-to-face meeting with Ferguson to discuss the funding issue, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette reports. Worcester mayor Timothy Murray charged Ferguson and other state health officials with "incompetence" after city officials were informed that the HIV program would not receive $124,000 in state funds needed to keep it operating.
The funds were pulled because state health officials said the testing and counseling program had "extensively documented program deficiencies" and due to a poorly prepared grant application. But Worcester city officials have asked for documentation to back up those statements, and state health officials have so far refused to provide any information. Worcester public-health director Francis Birch, who previously met with state officials for more than two hours to discuss the funding issue, said he has been provided with no information about the alleged program deficiencies and was shown a 2002 review form that showed that the program substantially fulfilled most, though not all, of its contractual goals and conditions. A 2001 performance review said the program met all its goals.
"We need to find a way to get that money so we can resume that [HIV/AIDS] program," said Worcester city manager Thomas Hoover. "They have expressed a willingness to work with us to see if there is a solution to this funding problem."