Tennessee's new health commissioner responds to questions about HIV funding

Dr. Ralph Alvarado
Posted at 5:41 PM, Jan 25, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-25 20:03:00-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The meeting of the Tennessee Senate Health and Welfare Committee on Wednesday was supposed to be a brief introduction of the state's new health commissioner, Dr. Ralph Alvarado.

"He just got to Nashville so if we could, this is more of an introductory meeting today," said Sen. Rusty Crowe, R- Johnson City.

But that's not exactly what happened.

Sen. Jeff Yarbro, a Democrat from Nashville, decided his concerns just couldn't wait.

"We made this sort of abrupt decision to cut off programs," said Sen. Yarbro. "There are legislators I know of both parties and in many regions of the state that have concerns about this and want to hear from the department about how best we’re going to move forward."

Last week, the State of Tennessee officially rejected a CDC grant that provides millions of dollars to HIV prevention and care programs across Tennessee's 99 counties. Technically, Dr. Alvarado didn't have to respond to Yarbro's questions, but here's what he said.

"This administration is examining areas where it can decrease its reliance on federal funding and assume a lot more increased independence in that realm. So the state’s determined right now that it’s in the best interest of Tennesseans is for the state to assume direct financial and managerial responsibility for these services," said Alvarado. "I think the state’s examining how an effective program will be implemented at the state level, and we will notify the community of specifics as soon as that’s appropriate as well."

After the meeting. Yarbro was still frustrated.

"He’s brand new on the job and I don’t know whether it’s his decision, or one he inherited, but we’re going to have to get better answers than the department has been able to communicate thus far," said Sen. Yarbro. "I don’t care who’s helping people. I don’t know why the governor would care who is getting out there and trying to help Tennesseans not get sick and die of AIDs."

Two physicians also attended the meeting and were quick to voice their displeasure.

"I would like to hear how he’s replacing that funding," said Dr. Amy Gordon Bono, an Internal Medicine Physician in Middle Tennessee. "At this moment in time, we need to be expanding access to healthcare, not inhumanely limiting it."

Sen. Crowe says Dr. Alvarado will return to the Health and Welfare Committee to answer questions in March.

NewsChannel 5 asked the Tennessee Department of Health if we could interview the new commissioner either before or after Wednesday's meeting, but that request was denied.

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