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Ax Falls for AIDS Budget Problems

September 14, 1995
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Several members of the Missouri Health Department are paying for the department's failure in controlling its AIDS program.

Not out of their pockets, but with their jobs.

As of Thursday, three staff members at the Health Department have been demoted. Several more have been transferred to other positions to develop and implement monitoring and reporting systems for the program.

And Health Director Coleen Kivlahan has orders from Gov. Mel Carnahan to find out what went wrong and how to avoid such a situation from happening again, said Chris Sifford, Carnahan's spokesman.

"We're concerned about this issue because it's having a serious impact on people's lives and we want to get to the bottom of it," Sifford said on Thursday.

The AIDS program gives financial help to people with HIV or AIDS across the state who meet the eligibility requirements. The funding goes toward necessities like prescriptions, medical bills and housing.

The department announced last week that the program's $2.2 million budget has been spent already, in addition to as much as $1.9 million of overspending. The funds were supposed to last until March 1996.

Kivlahan said the program's controls so that more people would be eligible and unspent federal grant money wouldn't return to Washington.

In the past year, the number of people using the funds has risen from 685 to 1,531, which is the main reason why the funds are depleted, said Nancy Gonder, the Health Department's communications director. "We just didn't have a good monitoring system in place to let us know earlier we were running out of money," she said.

Gonder said the department is looking into ways to transfer some funds to the AIDS program from programs like Medicaid so that those who relied on the program would have some sort of assistance.

"We are looking at all options at this point," Gonder said.

Other things the Health Department is doing in response to the AIDS funding crisis is:

* Implementing a monitoring system that gives top Health Department officials review and control of the program.

* Conducting a professional audit of the program's overall financial status.

And while the Health Department is evaluating the program, the Missouri Senate Appropriations Committee is investigating what went wrong in the Health Department.

"We're looking into what happened and who's responsible right now," said Sen. Mike Lybyer, D-Huggins, chairman of the Senate appropriations committee.

Lybyer said he won't discuss the actions they might take nor the information he's learned until an audit of the Health Department is released.

State Auditor Margaret Kelly has sent auditors to the Health Department to collect information concerning the AIDS fund.

"It's yet to be determined whether we'll have a special report out," said Frank Ybarra, Kelly's spokesman. If the audit isn't release in a special report, then Ybarra said it the audit will be released at the end of the year.