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Suspension Of UNLV's HIV Program Leaves Patients Reeling

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Associated Press

Around 60 women and children in the valley who have HIV receive their medical care from a program in the School of Community Health Sciences at UNLV. 

The program is the only comprehensive pediatric HIV program in Southern Nevada.

In September, however, UNLV decided to suspend that program with little warning to the people who depend on it for medicine and checkups. 

Families were left in the middle of what appears to be an administrative feud among university staff. 

Desert Companion reporter Heidi Kyser wrote about the clinic’s closure and how it impacted one family.  

Kyser said there are several different reasons given for the suspension. UNLV said it was the doctor running the program, Dr. Echezona Ezeanolue who was nicknamed Dr. Eze, that caused the problem.

“Its explanation for suspending the services was that Dr. Eze didn’t complete the paperwork necessary to administer the program using the grant funding," she said, "It’s a little unclear, but it just seems like there was some kind of process glitch that he was supposed to resolve and didn’t, according to UNLV.”

However, a lawsuit filed by a patient accuses the dean of the School of Community Health Sciences Shawn Gerstenberger of suspending the program to end a discrimination complaint by Dr. Ezeanolue. 

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The lawsuit says Dean Gerstenberger was accused of discriminating against Dr. Ezeanolue because of his Nigerian heritage.

UNLV had a strong response to the lawsuit, saying it had no merit and was based on inaccuracies and misinformation, Kyser said. The status of that discrimination complaint by Dr. Ezanolue, however, isn't known. 

Many patients of the clinic felt like the situation was made worse by how the program suspension was handled. Many said the only way the found out that the program had closed was when they showed up for a doctor's appointment.

One family, profiled in a story for Desert Companion, was down to one pill for their HIV-positive daughter before they found a doctor to help. 

Kyser said when she talked to UNLV, the school had started to help the patients find an appropriate place to get care and assigning them case workers to help.

“The main complaint seems to stem from the fact that it took them so long to get around to that," she said.

UNLV announced it has a new doctor to administer the program, which has been reinstated. During a hearing about the lawsuit, the judge tabled further discussion until a later date. 

But the patients who started the program with Dr. Ezeanolue and his nurse, Dina Patel, will have to adjust to the new administration.

“They just really seemed to have a bond with these physicians and regret their departure – to put it mildly – and really want a better explanation about why they were leaving,” she said. 

Guests

Heidi Kyser, staff writer, Desert Companion

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