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County Budget Crisis Places Burden on STD Clinic

By Eileen Buckley

Buffalo, NY – Several Erie County health department programs are in jeopardy due to massive budget cuts. One program that is trying to make due with less staff is the Sexually Transmitted Disease-HIV clinic.

The county's budget ax sliced away at the number of registered nurses who monitor, treat and work to prevent sexually transmitted disease and HIV in the community. The STD clinic operates at the Rath Building in downtown Buffalo.

Nursing coordinator Cecelia Kohlmeier says when the Legislature slashed county spending and jobs, her staff was cut from eight to two registered nurses. But Kohlmeier says they are promising to continue all screening. She says dealing with sexually transmitted disease remains a public health concern.

"We will, of course, include everything as far as HIV and hepatitis. Hepatitis is actually vaccine preventable disease. We will continue to offer those, and continue to do HIV testing and counseling," Kohlmeier said. "We will continue to try to do everything that has been done, but there will be some waiting periods."

Kohlmeier says right now, the focus is on dealing with the crisis and ensuring that patients receive the best care. The clinic serves those 12 years of age and up.

"It is out there, and a lot of high risky behavior is going on. We try to educate our clients and have them come in for testing," Kohlmeier said. "Even if they are not showing any symptoms, many times we found there are asymptomatic diseases."

Kohlmeier says the County Health Commissioner is working on plans to make sure patients are offered adequate access to the clinic program despite budget cuts.

The STD services were established by the County Health Department back in the 1970s. Over the past 30 years, programs have been added for hepatitis and HIV.