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Supervisors Reject Valley AIDS Clinic Fund Request

Budget: Foundation wants to keep Sherman Oaks facility open. County officials cite alleged mismanagement.


Despite the presence of 300 sometimes angry protesters, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday refused to bail out the San Fernando Valley's largest AIDS clinic, and instead chastised the foundation that runs the clinic for alleged fiscal mismanagement.

The nonprofit AIDS Healthcare Foundation, one of the county's largest AIDS service providers, came to the supervisors seeking $1.2 million to keep its Sherman Oaks facility open. It is the Valley's only five-day-a-week AIDS clinic, and serves about 500 clients--most of them on Medi-Cal.

But instead of words of sympathy, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky told a board meeting packed with supporters of the foundation that the group had simply overspent its allotted amount of funds and should not expect the cash-strapped county to come to its rescue.

"Since we are issuing the checks, we expect certain rules are going to be met, like you don't overspend, and then hold communities like . . . the San Fernando Valley hostage," Yaroslavsky said. "If every agency we funded said it was immoral to stay within their budget . . . we'd have total anarchy, and that is unacceptable."

Instead, Yaroslavsky asked for--and the board unanimously approved--a motion authorizing a study of the financial stability and management of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation; contingency plans for the maintenance of AIDS services in the Valley if the Sherman Oaks clinic is closed, and the implementation of a fee-for-service reimbursement policy for AIDS program providers countywide.

"I want you to understand that what I am not asking for is for you to bail out AIDS Healthcare Foundation," Yaroslavsky told the rest of the board. "I am very troubled by any organization that overspends their budget and thinks they can come back and get more funding at a hearing like this."

Members of the foundation acknowledge overspending, in part because the price of AIDS drug treatments is high.

Foundation President Michael Weinstein has said the group considers it immoral to turn away anyone in need and contends that the foundation is not reimbursed for all of the patients it serves. Although he brushed aside questions about the foundation's management Tuesday, he said he would open his books to county auditors if necessary.

"We've been in existence for nine years," he said. "We are not an irresponsible fly-by-night organization. But we are also not going to throw people out of the lifeboat."

However, Weinstein said his organization supports Yaroslavsky's fee-for-service proposal, despite the supervisor's rebuke and the refusal to provide more money to keep the 2-year-old Sherman Oaks clinic open past its threatened closing date of Oct. 1.

The supervisors' decision came during a sometimes raucous meeting and after a morning rally on the steps of the county's Hall of Administration building, where more than two dozen speakers praised the health foundation and hammered the county.

Robert Alexander, an HIV-positive Beverly Hills resident, was escorted out of the board meeting by sheriff's deputies after he continued an impromptu speech from the audience, disregarding requests by supervisors to sit down and wait his turn. Another protester delivered an angry speech from her seat, then walked out before she, too, could be kicked out.

Tony Castillo of Van Nuys told the board that the alternative to seeking care at the Valley clinic was waiting for hours at Olive View-UCLA Medical Center in Sylmar.

"I find it very hard to sit for three hours at Olive View waiting for a blood test," he said. "People have very little services as it is. Please don't take away our clinic."

Toni Garcia, 26, who works at the clinic, told the board that most people with AIDS are not wealthy.

"It's not feasible for people to go over the hill to Hollywood for services. Most of our patients don't make $180,000 a year"--the salary of the county's newly appointed chief administrative officer, she said.

County AIDS Coordinator John Schunoff told the board that at its current rate of spending, the foundation was in danger of going $3 million over the $5.6-million budget it uses to operate its four county clinics.

Even if the Sherman Oaks facility does close, the AIDS money will probably be transferred to other groups in the San Fernando Valley, county officials said.

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