AMHERST – Sexual health centres, including Cumberland County’s, are facing a financial crisis if the province doesn’t increase its funding.
Ruthie Patriquin, executive director of the Sexual Health Centre for Cumberland and secretary of the Nova Scotia Association of Sexual Health Boards, said funding has not increased in seven years, but expenses have continued to climb.
“We do a tremendous amount of work for such a small budget, but it’s getting harder and harder to do so,” Patriquin said Monday. “It’s a struggle now to meet our current financial needs. Without any additional funding from the province it’s going to be even more difficult.”
Patriquin said the Cumberland centre receives less than $36,000 of its $75,000 annual budget from Health and Wellness. Last year it received about $16,000 from the United Way of Cumberland, requiring the remainder to be raised in the community.
“Without the United Way we’d be in a desparate financial position,” she said.
The sexual health centre, located at the Maggie’s Place Family Resource Centre on Elmwood Drive, offers a number of programs and services including providing condoms and programming for children and parents, along with support for teachers and their health curriculum and a lending library.
Because she’s the only staff person, Patriquin said there are times she’s out of the office doing programming leaving no one there to look after clients’ needs.
“Cumberland County has come to depend on the sexual health services and not being able to maintain them or to have to reduce them because of a lack of government funding would be a real loss in this community,” said Patriquin, adding the centre has been in Amherst since 1981.
Funding was the subject of meetings last week between the Nova Scotia Association for Sexual Health and Health Minister David Wilson and members of the Liberal and PC caucuses.
Most of the centres have been forced to make cutbacks to staffing, business hours, and programming. Without an increase in funding this year, some centres will be faced with tough decisions and may not have a choice but to close their doors.
The centres are also experiencing cutbacks such as the termination of a national condom distribution program.
Many communities in Nova Scotia respect and depend on these NSASH member organizations to provide health and safety information and training, such as support and services for youth at risk, and support for educators. The centres also provide cyber-bullying and self-esteem programs.
NSASH organizations provide sexual health programs and services to thousands of Nova Scotians. Over the past two years they have distributed more than 117,000 condoms for the prevention of sexually-transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancies.
Without sufficient funding, centres across the province will be forced to reduce client services. NSASH forecasts a further increase in unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections if the NSASH Sexual Health Centres throughout Nova Scotia do not see a Department of Health and Wellness funding increase this year.