JEFFERSON CITY _ Missouri's Health Department has announced its plan to pay off the $1.6 million debt racked up in the mismanagement of an AIDS fund.
The plan includes a hiring freeze. About 96 positions in the department are now vacant.
Health Department spokesperson Nanci Gonder said the hiring freeze will remain in effect until further notice, although she said critical positions would be exempt from the freeze.
"While it was a difficult decision to impose a hiring freeze on programs that are already understaffed, we plan to do what is necessary to maintain our health services to the public," Health Department Director Colleen Kivlahan said in a statement announcing the freeze.
Along with a limitation on travel expenses and other administrative costs, the hiring freeze is expected to free up $348,480 to pay off the debt.
Negotiations are underway with Medicaid to pay for some services for eligible clients. Gonder said Medicaid will pay for $266,880 worth of unpaid claims, and will reimburse the state for $348,640 in claims the state already paid.
All state agencies are required to hold 3 percent of their total budget in reserve. The Health Department has a reserve of $1.2 million, but can only allocate $270,000 of that money to paying off the AIDS debt.
Finally, the state has petitioned the federal government to allow $300,000 in AIDS-related grants to be redirected from non-service activities _ such as planning, to services _ which would allow those funds to be used to pay off the debt.
"The governor thinks the department is on the right track in terms of solving the problem," said Chris Sifford, spokesman for Gov. Mel Carnahan. "Obviously there are still some questions out there, but Colleen (Kivlahan) has a good handle on the problem. She's doing a good job."
The Health Department will not be able to pay for any services for AIDS patients until next year. Workers there are trying to put together a private sector response to this crisis, but have yet to announce a specific plan.