State officials on Thursday confirmed that an AIDS information program in Orange County's black community suddenly closed down after the state raised questions about how it was spending money.
The project, called the Black Community AIDS Program, shut down on Dec. 1, said Thelma Fraziear, chief of the AIDS office in the state Department of Health Services in Sacramento.
The executive director of the program, Joseph Gatlin, could not be reached for comment.
Fraziear said she ordered an audit, which is under way, of how the Black Community AIDS Program has spent about $54,000 in state money during the 8 months of its existence.
The program originally was scheduled to be a 15-month project, extending through June, 1989, Fraziear said. The state had agreed to allocate $110,000 to the program during that time, she said.
"There appeared to be some irregularities," Fraziear said. "We were unable to reconcile some of their billing (to the state). We were unable to get receipts. I personally made a trip to Orange County to look into this program last month. I found there were some discrepancies that we needed to clear up."
As a result, Fraziear said, she asked for a state audit of the program. Shortly afterwards, she said, "they (officials in the Black Community AIDS Program) called us and said they had decided to fold the operation. . . . We have accepted the termination of their contract as of Dec. 1."
Fraziear said that the audit is still in progress and that she did not know when it would be completed. Wendell Carmichael, a full-time worker in the Black Community AIDS Program, said Thursday that Gatlin ordered the program shut down with only a 1-day notice to the three employees, including himself. "We still haven't gotten our last paycheck for the month of November," Carmichael said.
"This is a very worthwhile program for the black community, and as a black myself, I hate to see this," Carmichael said. But in response to questions, Carmichael said the management of the information program "got to be really a mess." Ayida Mthembu, senior health education specialist for the program, also told of problems with the program. "But the thing that needs emphasizing is that the information program itself was working very well, and we were reaching thousands in the black community," Mthembu said.
She said she still is doing volunteer work to disseminate AIDS information among Orange County's estimated 40,000 blacks.
Mthembu said efforts also are being made to restart the black AIDS information program under a new sponsorship.
Mthembu noted that there is a very high AIDS rate among black intravenous drug users. "Since most of these drug users are heterosexual, this means that there is a high percentage of black women exposed to AIDS," she said.
"Almost 60% of the women (nationwide) who have AIDS are black. The AIDS rate among blacks in Orange County is going to keep going up unless we get more information to the IV drug users."
Dr. Thomas Prendergast, epidemiologist for Orange County's Health Services Agency, said Thursday that he did not have enough specific information about the Black Community AIDS Program to comment on its dissolution. Prendergast said that while there are many AIDS information programs in Orange County, it generally is a good idea to target special groups, such as the black community.