Grant's Doom

State misspent $350,000 of federal funds earmarked for HIV and substance-abuse services

Elliott and her peers say they had difficulty working with just about everyone they encountered at the state Department of Health Services--from low-level staffers to director James Allen.

"[Allen] told us that he was very disappointed in us that we weren't there to talk about programs, that all we wanted to talk about was money," Elliott recalls.

"We were told on more than two occasions that there was not support in the Legislature and there was not a lot of support on a community basis for this [HIV] population, that it was not a sympathetic one."

Bixler adds, "They have consistently articulated, 'Your folks are less worthy than other folks. So just be happy with what you get.'"

After a few false starts, the HIV Substance Abuse Working Group has been promised that the state will make it up to them by devoting $350,000 to HIV/substance-abuse treatment.

Brian McNeil, DHS deputy director for budget and policy, was refreshingly candid when I spoke to him last week. He admits that the state erred by failing to allocate the funds to the HIV population and acknowledges that once brought to DHS' attention, the matter was mishandled. He recognizes that the feds could swoop in and take money away as punishment for noncompliance. He insists that ValueOptions, the state's new behavioral-health-care provider, is taking steps to create programs that will offer treatment to substance abusers with HIV.

And McNeil vows that he has a plan to fix the problem and produce that $350,000--but that, he says, he can't talk about.

"Over the last few weeks," McNeil assures me, "efforts have stepped up considerably to get some resolution to this issue. Not just verbal resolution, but to get some funds to rectify some of this stuff. I feel very confident that that is going to happen, but timing is everything."

Ken Bixler is skeptical.
"Where they're going to pull that money from, I don't know--and it doesn't give me a warm fuzzy," he says.

McNeil is circumspect: "We are working on identifying a potential source of revenue."

So Debby Elliott might actually get some satisfaction.
Louis won't. He died last month.

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