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AIDS advocates to protest Gov. Crist at Miami summit

News release:

HIV/AIDS Patients, Medical Care Providers and Concerned Community Members to Hold Candlelight Vigil Outside Intercontinental Miami Hotel on Thursday, July 12th at 8:00 p.m. During Summit’s Formal Dinner to Protest Governor’s Silence on Florida’s Growing HIV/AIDS Crisis and Cuts to Medicaid AIDS Program

A coalition of physicians, nurses, social workers, concerned community members, and Florida HIV/AIDS patients, will participate in a Candlelight Vigil at Bayfront Park, outside the Intercontinental Miami Hotel on Thursday, July 12th at 8:00 p.m. where Florida Governor Charlie Crist is hosting a two-day Climate Change Summit.  The vigil and protest, which will coincide with the summit’s formal dinner, will spotlight the Governor’s silence on Florida’s growing HIV/AIDS crisis—one that continues to affect minorities and women disproportionately. Despite the state’s consistent ranking as 3rd in the nation for AIDS cases per state (behind New York and California), Florida’s popular Governor—self-billed as the “People’s Governor”—has not spoken publicly about the crisis since taking office six months ago.  The protestors are outraged over cuts to the Medicaid AIDS program that have taken place under the Crist administration that will negatively impact the state’s low-income HIV/AIDS patients, including the slashing of the HIV/AIDS disease management budget by more than half and a 77% reduction in nursing staff for one of the state’s neediest and most vulnerable populations.

“Currently, HIV/AIDS is a leading cause of death in Florida for both black males and black females.  Blacks comprise over 50% of the reported HIV cases in the state.  Women accounted for 30% of the HIV cases reported in Florida in 2006.  The statistics are staggering. Even worse than the ill-timed cuts to the state’s HIV/AIDS program is the Governor’s noticeable silence on the public health crisis that continues to grow in his state,” said Michael Kahane, Bureau Chief, Southern Region, for AIDS Healthcare Foundation.  AIDS Healthcare Foundation is the nation’s largest provider of HIV/AIDS medical care, education, prevention and patient advocacy, as well as the operator of Positive Healthcare, Florida’s successful Medicaid HIV/AIDS disease management program for the past eight years.

“We are holding this candlelight vigil to ask the Governor, on behalf of the 125,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in Florida, to be the ‘People’s Governor’ for all the people in this state, including those affected by HIV/AIDS—an epidemic that continues to grow in minority communities and among women at an alarming pace,” added Kahane.

Funding for the state’s innovative HIV/AIDS disease management program serving over 8,000 Floridians living with HIV/AIDS has been slashed from $11.5 million to $4.5 million.  In addition to the budget cuts, Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) recently announced its intention to dismantle the successful disease management program Positive Healthcare, run by non-profit AIDS Healthcare Foundation, and instead award management of the program to a private, for-profit vendor with little experience providing care for HIV/AIDS patients. As a result of the Governor’s budget cuts and state changes to the program, Florida now faces a startling 77% cut in AIDS nursing staff for the lifesaving—and cost saving—statewide care program.  The proposed plan lists 16 statewide field-based RN/LPN nurses and 7½ call center nurses located in Jacksonville for the entire program.  By contrast, AHF/Positive Healthcare currently employs more than 70 RNs who work directly with the program’s patients along with AHF/Positive Healthcare community outreach workers.

Since the drastic cuts to HIV/AIDS services were announced, Florida HIV/AIDS nurses and patients have spoken out loudly, and regularly, against the looming changes. At passionate protests in Orlando (June 28), Tallahassee (June 13), Miami (June 7), Tampa (May 31) and Ft. Lauderdale (May 11) people spoke out against the cuts and changes. Many of the same nurses and AIDS patients confronted the Governor about his continued silence on the Florida’s HIV/AIDS crisis and the cuts to the state’s Medicaid program at three back-to-back community appearances in Ocala, Inverness and St. Petersburg on June 23rd.  In addition, over 5,000 letters appealing to the Governor to reverse these harmful changes have already been written by AIDS patients from across the state. The Governor has yet to respond to a single letter.

“The patient population served by Positive Healthcare’s Medicaid disease management program closely mirrors the state’s demographics.   The largest percentage of the over 8,000 Medicaid HIV/AIDS patients we serve are black and about one-third of the patients are women.  Slashing the budgets for the program and cutting the services provided by the state will hurt low-income minorities and women throughout the state,” added Deborah Moffett, AHF/Positive Healthcare Registered Nurse (RN) Manager.  “We urge Governor Crist to closely examine the disparity in both HIV infection rates and access to treatment in the state and to finally end his silence on the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Florida.”

According to “Silence is Death: The Crisis of HIV/AIDS in Florida’s Black Communities” (a report published by Florida’s Department of Health in September 2006) in 2005 1 in 58 black males and 1 in 83 black females in Florida were living with a diagnosed case of HIV/AIDS.  In 2005, for the 15th year in a row, HIV/AIDS was the leading cause of death among black males and black females aged 25-44 years.

Florida’s Department of Health reports that the state is ranked third in the nation for the highest number of HIV/AIDS cases, behind New York and California and second in the nation in the number of pediatric HIV/AIDS cases. More than 4,000 HIV/AIDS cases are diagnosed in Florida every year, accounting for 10% of all new infections in the U.S., which is estimated at 40,000 new cases per year.  An estimated 125,000 people, or roughly 11.7% of the national estimate of 1,185,000 are currently thought to be living with HIV/AIDS in Florida.

Lori Yeghiayan
Associate Director of Communications
AIDS Healthcare Foundation
lori.yeghiayan@aidshealth.org
323.860.5227 work
323.377.4312 cell
323.468.0400 fax
www.aidshealth.org

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