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Queensbury Senior Center director in hot water over effort to reduce HIV

QUEENSBURY — A bowl of condoms discretely placed in a bathroom at the town Senior Center is causing an uproar.

The center’s new director, who has worked there for a year, put out free condoms in response to frightening statistics from the state Department of Health. In this region, a third of the people who are diagnosed with HIV or AIDS are older than the age of 50.

But the president of the center’s board of directors — a retired cardiologist, David Schwenker — said the condoms shouldn’t be at the senior center.

“It creates difficult discussions,” he said.

He also questioned whether the statistics about seniors with HIV and AIDS were true.

Overall, seniors are one of the fastest-growing groups to get sexually transmitted infections, according to the state Department of Health. And, perhaps because they aren’t as worried about HIV as other groups, senior citizens are more likely to develop full-blown AIDS, doctors are discovering. That’s harder to treat than HIV.

Outside New York City, seniors received 23 percent of the new HIV/AIDS diagnoses in 2015, the latest year for which statistics are available, the report says.

In this region, which includes Albany County, seniors received 33 percent of the new HIV/AIDS diagnoses. In raw numbers, 20 seniors were diagnosed in this region in 2015. The state did not release the ages of each newly diagnosed patient by county, since there are so few - just two new patients in Warren County and one new patient in Washington County. But it is in the population. As of 2015, there were a total of 74 people with HIV or AIDS — in all age groups — in Warren County and 105 patients in Washington County. (Corrected.) The statistics exclude prisoners, who are more likely to have HIV/AIDS than the outside population.

People with HIV/AIDS are living full lives with treatment, which means many patients also live long enough to become senior citizens. In New York, half of all the people who have HIV or AIDS are now age 50 or older, the report says.

Those sobering statistics got the attention of Queensbury Senior Center Director Kathryn Cramer.

“No one wants to talk about old people having sex,” she said. “I discovered horrifically that older women were the highest group of HIV. There’s no material for older people. So the first thing I did was put out the condoms.”

She got 1,000 condoms donated to the center, put them in bowls in the bathrooms and added signs with cheerful commentary such as, “Has Kathryn lost her mind?” The signs direct seniors to look at a red folder on the bulletin board. It can be discretely removed and read at one of the tables or couches at the center and includes information about sexually transmitted infections and the infection rate among seniors.

At first, no one wanted to discuss the condoms. But the folder was well-read. And after 10 months, 750 of the condoms were gone.

“For people who didn’t want to talk about it, someone’s taking them,” Cramer said.

But she added that people did begin to talk.

“At first, their initial reaction for some of them was, why is this relevant? Why is this here?” she said. “Once I told them why, I told them, I care about you, and any issue I hear about that’s affecting you, you bet I’m going to address it. Once they knew why, they embraced it.”

Some women told her they’d never used a condom, having grown up at a time when sex outside marriage was heavily stigmatized. They married early, had children, and are now widowed and finding themselves in a very different situation.

“Boy, the conversations we’ve had!” Cramer said. “We joke about it. Phase one was getting them used to it, getting the giggles out.”

Next year, she wants to have Public Health do educational programs.

But she was shocked when Schwenker suddenly objected to the condoms last week, upon learning that a reporter had asked about them.

Cramer began calling board members for support, and said she might quit if the board unilaterally removed the condoms. She then took most of this week off.

Schwenker stopped short of saying he would remove the condoms.

“It’s one of the things Kathryn takes it upon herself to promote, without taking it to the board,” he said, but acknowledged there had been “a mention” of it at a board meeting and that he knew about it.

He said he thought the condoms were removed shortly after being placed in the bathrooms and was surprised to learn they were still there.

“It’s the board that should be making these decisions. Not me, not any individual,” he said. “I’m not sure the town should be doing public health. I think public health issues, (county) Public Health should be doing it.”

Other programs about public health are appropriate, and are offered by the center without special approval of the board, he acknowledged. The center has run programs on long-term care insurance and on picking nursing homes.

“That’s not available in the community in other ways, readily,” he said.

He added that if condoms are going to be distributed, it should be kept quiet.

“It has to be something on the side,” he said, adding, “This is creating a controversy, believe me. It’s promoting something that people are going to be unhappy about.”

Supreme Court allows full enforcement of Trump travel ban

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday allowed the Trump administration to fully enforce a ban on travel to the United States by residents of six mostly Muslim countries.

This is not a final ruling on the travel ban: Challenges to the policy are winding through the federal courts, and the justices themselves ultimately are expected to rule on its legality.

But the action indicates that the high court might eventually approve the latest version of the ban, announced by President Donald Trump in September. Lower courts have continued to find problems with the policy.

White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said the White House is “not surprised by (Monday’s) Supreme Court decision permitting immediate enforcement of the President’s proclamation limiting travel from countries presenting heightened risks of terrorism.”

Opponents of this and previous versions of the ban say they show a bias against Muslims. They say that was reinforced most recently by Trump’s retweets of anti-Muslim videos.

“President Trump’s anti-Muslim prejudice is no secret. He has repeatedly confirmed it, including just last week on Twitter. It’s unfortunate that the full ban can move forward for now, but this order does not address the merits of our claims,” said Omar Jadwat, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. The ACLU is representing some opponents of the ban.

Just two justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, noted their disagreement with court orders allowing the latest policy to take full effect.

The new policy is not expected to cause the chaos that ensued at airports when Trump rolled out his first ban without warning in January.

The ban applies to travelers from Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. Lower courts had said people from those nations with a claim of a “bona fide” relationship with someone in the United States could not be kept out of the country. Grandparents, cousins and other relatives were among those courts said could not be excluded.

The courts were borrowing language the Supreme Court itself came up with last summer to allow partial enforcement of an earlier version of the ban.

Now, those relationships will no longer provide a blanket exemption from the ban, although visa officials can make exceptions on a case-by-case basis.

The justices offered no explanation for their order, but the administration had said that blocking the full ban was causing “irreparable harm” because the policy is based on legitimate national security and foreign policy concerns.

In lawsuits filed in Hawaii and Maryland, federal courts said the updated travel ban violated federal immigration law. The travel policy also applies to travelers from North Korea and to some Venezuelan government officials and their families, but the lawsuits did not challenge those restrictions. Also unaffected are refugees. A temporary ban on refugees expired in October.

All the rulings so far have been on a preliminary basis. The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, will be holding arguments on the legality of the ban this week.

David Levine, a University of California Hastings law school professor, said that by allowing the ban to take effect just days before the appeals court arguments, the justices were signaling their view.

“I think it’s tipping the hand of the Supreme Court,” Levine said. “It suggests that from their understanding, the government is more likely to prevail on the merits than we might have thought.”

Both appeals courts are dealing with the issue on an accelerated basis, and the Supreme Court noted it expects those courts to reach decisions “with appropriate dispatch.”

Quick resolution by appellate courts would allow the Supreme Court to hear and decide the issue this term, by the end of June.

UPDATED — Police make arrest in Fort Edward fire

FORT EDWARD — Police have arrested a 15-year-old in connection with last week’s house fire in the village, and they believe he also committed numerous home burglaries before the fire.

Fort Edward Police Chief Justin Derway said the teen is believed to have intentionally started the fire at 5 McKie St. using an accelerant, to cover up his involvement in the burglaries at that home and others.

Police said the teen lives in the village of Fort Edward and was acquainted with the homeowner, and had been part of a group of young people who hung out there occasionally.

The teen, whose name was not released because he is considered a juvenile, was charged with felony counts of arson, burglary, reckless endangerment and criminal mischief, Derway said. Additional charges are likely, as police recovered numerous items stolen from other homes that the teen allegedly burglarized, according to police.

He was turned over Monday to the Washington County Probation Department, which will determine whether he should be released and whether he will be prosecuted in Washington County Family Court. Juvenile offenders are sometimes put on probation in lieu of prosecution.

The early-morning Nov. 27 fire destroyed the two-story home. No one was hurt, but the owner was left homeless. He had been staying with relatives at the time.

Police and local fire investigators determined the fire started just inside the front door. Derway said a trained dog from the state Office of Fire Prevention and Control detected an unspecified accelerant.

The owner of the home, Shane Morehouse, did not have insurance, police said. He told police he wanted to try to salvage the home, but Derway said it did not appear salvageable.

Derway praised the cooperation between his agency, the fire departments and investigators and officers from the State Police, Washington County Sheriff’s Office and Hudson Falls Police.

Keeping the fire from spreading to the village highway garage feet away was a task, he said. Fort Edward Fire Chief Matt Hurlburt said firefighters sprayed down the garage to keep flames from spreading to it.

“It was fully involved when I got there, fire pushing out every window and door,” Hurlburt said of the home.

Police were looking into whether the fire was related to one last month that destroyed a home on John Street in Hudson Falls, which also has been unexplained and started inside the front door.

Hudson Falls Police Chief Randy Diamond said Hudson Falls officers worked with Fort Edward Police and State Police on the investigation, but there does not appear to be a link between the Hudson Falls and Fort Edward fires at this point.

“We have nothing to directly link him to that fire,” Derway said.

Police: Nursing home resident had broken back, ribs

Editor's Note: This story was corrected to reflect Mr. Bovair was headed back to the nursing home from a medical appointment.

QUEENSBURY — The Queensbury man who died Friday after he was hurt in the nursing home van in which he was riding suffered broken ribs and a broken back in the incident, but police did not know Monday what caused his death.

The state Department of Health has joined the Warren County Sheriff’s Office in investigating the death of Peter D. Bovair, 70, after the van he was in stopped short Friday in traffic on Main Street and he was thrown from his wheelchair.

Bovair was a resident of the Warren Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing and was being taken back to the home from a medical appointment around 5 p.m. for an unspecified reason when he was hurt.

Police said the wheelchair he was in was secured in the van, but he was not wearing a restraint to keep him in the wheelchair. Police said there was a restraint in the vehicle for a passenger such as Bovair, and they were researching whether a belt was legally required.

Warren County sheriff’s Lt. Steve Stockdale said the driver of the van told police another vehicle stopped short in front of the Warren Center van. He said the driver of the vehicle ahead of the van did not remain at the scene, as no collision occurred, and had not been located.

An autopsy was performed on Bovair over the weekend at Albany Medical Center, and Stockdale said the cause of death was found to be internal trauma.

Stockdale said it was unclear whether any tickets or criminal charges were going to be filed. He said it is often difficult to tell whether the responsibility lies with the person who stops short in front of a vehicle, or whether the vehicle behind is to blame for a crash or near-crash.

State Vehicle & Traffic Law states that a “driver of a motor vehicle shall not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of such vehicles and the traffic upon and the condition of the highway.”

A spokesman for the Department of Health said the agency had no comment on the matter as of Monday.

“The Department’s investigation into the death of a resident at Warren Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing is ongoing,” said agency spokesman Jeffrey Hammond. “As this remains an active investigation, we cannot comment further.”

Jeffrey Jacomowitz, a spokesman for Centers Health Care, which owns the home, said the company’s investigation was ongoing Monday.