ACR Health Furloughs 70 Staff Members, Closes Locations, Limits Services Due to Funding Shortfall
ACR Health is furloughing 70 staff members and limiting some services across a nine county region due to the lack of reimbursement from New York State. The contracts date back to January and exceed $1.6 million. This comes at a time when demand for services has increased, and the state faces a multi-billion dollar deficit due to COVID-19. Eighty-eight percent of the organization's budget comes from state contracts. Executive director Wil Murtaugh says the solutions for one pandemic should not come at the expense of progress they’ve made on everything from HIV/AIDS to substance abuse.
"If we can't do syringe exchange, where are these people going to go? If we can't pay people's rents who are HIV positive and also chronically ill, what's going to happen to them? We can't have people who are HIV positive homeless and not taking their medicine which keeps them undetectable."
Murtaugh says the pandemic has caused some to use more drugs, though they’ve seen others seeking medically assisted treatment to curb their addiction. Meanwhile, he says there is an increased risk of disease if addicts can’t get clean syringes.
"We've had to change the way we deliver syringe exchange programs: It's been in our parking lot. I can see the desperate faces who come for their syringes. I'm so glad we can provide it because they are using, and they want to stay safe, too. We educate them and we teach them how to stay safe."
Murtaugh says they’ve also seen an increase in people applying for health insurance through ACR health who’ve lost their jobs because of the shutdown. The layoffs take effect July 3rd, and will force the closure of three offices: 990 James St. in Syracuse, and locations in Canton and Watertown. He’s urging supporters to reach out to state and federal lawmakers to fully fund the organization.