PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. - Budget cuts could affect where people in Palm Beach County go for AIDS and HIV treatment, as well as a number of other services.
The State Department of Health is forcing the Palm Beach County Health Department to eliminate more than 80 positions and slash eight million dollars from their budget.
According to the Palm Beach County Health Department, most of those workers will be able to transition to other jobs within the health department. However, the biggest change the agency will make is closing its Riviera Beach Clinic and making sure its patients can find their services.
For the last five years, the Palm Beach County Health Department has leased space on Garden Road in Riviera Beach to run its HIV and AIDS clinic. The clinic also provides services for tuberculosis patients, refugees and treatment for those with sexually transmitted diseases.
Budget cuts will shut it down next month, but patients can receive treatment at the health department's other clinics. The challenge for staff is making sure patients know where to find them.
"When we've moved in the past, we've lost patients," explained Michael Amberg, a psychotherapist with the Palm Beach County Health Department. "They may be away and return and it's not the easiest thing to ask: "where's the AIDS/HIV clinic?"
Palm Beach County Health Department Director Dr. Alina Alonso said HIV/AIDS services will be offered at locations in West Palm Beach, Delray Beach, Lantana and Belle Glade. Treatment for tuberculosis patients will be offered at the department's Delray Beach and Belle Glade clinics and patients can receive treatment for STDs at all clinic locations.
In addition, the Palm Beach County Health Department will open a new clinic near the Riviera Beach clinic next month at 851 Avenue P. Health department officials say the space, owned by the county, will be less expensive to operate than the leased space on Garden Road. It will offer services, including treatment for refugees and the homeless.
Amberg said most patients are taking the move in stride.
"Their concern is about their care and if their doctor will be there," he said.
Dr. Alonso said doctors and staff will are not changing. She explained the department has cut many positions across the board, including clerical frontline staff and nursing positions, but with careful planning, they were able to keep most of their employees.
"We stopped hiring for most of the positions that were going to be affected," she said, "so we were able to put people in positions that were vacant or about to be vacant."
The clinic in Riviera Beach will close at the end of September, but the Palm Beach County Health Department said there should be no disruption in service.