The City will be cutting Monday hours at four city clinics that treat sexually transmitted diseases. But many New Yorkers are worried about the cuts pointing to the need for such facilities due to the recent, deadly meningitis outbreak, which has killed seven people since 2010.
According to DNAinfo.com, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene proposed, earlier this month, that high-volume STD clinics in Jamaica, Chelsea, Harlem and Fort Greene be closed on Mondays despite the fact that Mondays are usually the busiest days at those clinics.
Those clinics will instead extend their Saturday services from five hours to eight hours. Other clinics will remain open on Mondays, but a fifth clinic in Morrisania will cut its Saturday hours altogether. City health officials say that the move will help to eliminate overtime costs and save $600,000.
“The Health Department will be staggering its hours of clinic operations to make sure that STD services are available to New Yorkers six days a week, while reducing expenses to align with the city’s finance,” a city Health Department spokeswoman said in a statement.
She added that with the new schedule, on Saturday clinics will be open for a full business day, as opposed to a half-day in the past.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Meningococcal disease, also know as meningitis, is a severe bacterial infection that can be spread though respiratory and throat secretion. It has sickened 22 gay men in the New York area, including 13 in 2012 and four this year. Three of the five men who were infected have died.
Meningitis infection causes high fever, rashes and a stiff neck. The disease can be spread by close contact with someone who is infected. In October, the Health Department issued a warning for men to get vaccinated, especially those who are HIV positive and who had intimate contact with another man they met on a website or at a bar.
On March 25, they then expanded their recommendation to include anyone who engaged in any high-risk behavior.
DNAinfo also reported that clinic staffers say that Mondays tend to be busier because patients often come in wanting to be checked out after engaging in unprotected sexual activities over the weekend.
“They come Monday either because they’ve developed symptoms or they’re worried about their weekend exposure,” said Judith Arrayo, president of Local 436 on DNAinfo’s website.
“I can understand not wanting to spend money on overtime,” she added. “But to give up one of your busiest days means the people that came on Mondays are going to be seriously inconvenienced.”
The website also added that demands for the vaccines at the city STD clinics are also high because many doctors don’t have the vaccine on hand and it may not be covered by insurance. The vaccine is issued for free at the city clinics.
A health department official acknowledged that Monday is indeed a “very busy day,” but said that from January 2012 until last month, Tuesdays were the day of the week with the highest average number of visits, stated DNAinfo website.
Staff members at the clinics cutting Monday hours will be required to work Tuesday through Saturday. Union officials are worried about employees with religious observations and those with child care problems.
According to a Department of Health Study conducted in December, Central Harlem and Chelsea, have the highest HIV infection rates in the city, where two if the clinics are located.