Protests at City Hall


April 28, 1994|By Holly Selby | Holly Selby,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer JoAnna Daemmrich contributed to this article.

AIDS activists yesterday chained themselves to the doors of the city health department and disrupted a Board of Estimates meeting, eliciting a promise from Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to consider complaints about Baltimore's AIDS programs.

The demonstration began about 9 a.m. As pedestrians and police officers watched, some 30 members of ACT UP Baltimore picketed outside City Hall while one went inside to interrupt the meeting of city officials.

Protesters then crossed Fayette Street to march in front of the health department. Five chained themselves to the doors as others waved posters, honked horns and chanted slogans such as, "Wake up. Time's up. AIDS won't wait."

They also called for the resignation of Deputy Health Commissioner Elias Dorsey.

The protesters dispersed after about an hour.

"We made our point," one said.

ACT UP's main complaint is that poor record-keeping by the city causes a loss of badly needed federal dollars for AIDS programs.

Pointing out that funding depends in part on up-to-date statistics, ACT UP faults the health department for falling behind on new AIDS cases.

Confronting the Board of Estimates, ACT UP's John Stuban said that job vacancies prevent the city from keeping up.

"You have a bureaucracy in the health department that refuses to deal with these problems before they become crises," Mr. Stuban told the mayor and a group of startled city officials. "These positions need to be filled."

Mr. Schmoke agreed to meet within a week with ACT UP members and city and community health professionals.

City Health Commissioner Peter Beilenson said that official records of infectious diseases often lag behind diagnoses; annual tallies by both city and state continue to be updated several months after Dec. 31.

"We're way underreported on gonorrhea and other diseases, too," he said. "The bottom line is we will report what needs to be reported."

Three of the five health department positions in AIDS surveillance have been vacant for up to four months. "We are actively recruiting," Dr. Beilenson said. "We should hire people to fill the positions in the next two to four weeks."

Most federal funding for AIDS programs comes through the Ryan White Care Act. The total for the Baltimore region is nearly $4 million.

Yesterday's protest came one week after members of the Greater Baltimore HIV Health Services Planning Council urged Mr. Schmoke to take emergency action to fill the job vacancies. The 30-member council oversees allocation of Ryan White funding for the region.

The co-chairman is Carl Stokes, a 2nd District city councilman. "We wanted the mayor to please expedite or declare a health emergency . . . or take any measure necessary to hire persons in the health department's AIDS services," he said.

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