QUEENSBURY — Both sides of the Queensbury Senior Center condom flap have resigned.
Director Kathryn Cramer, who placed condoms discretely in the bathrooms with information about high rates of sexually transmitted infections among seniors, resigned without a public announcement. She was replaced by Melissa Pagnotta, who had been the director of travel and activities.
At the same time, the president of the board, Dr. David Schwenker, also resigned.
He was replaced by retired Rev. Monty Robinson, who had made public statements supporting the condom program.
In an interview with WRGB last month, Robinson said the condoms were a way to show that the senior center cared about its people and wanted to offer them options.
He could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Pagnotta, Schwenker and Cramer did not respond to calls seeking comment, but Cramer said last month that she wanted to resign as soon as she found another job. She said she loved working with the seniors and would be heartbroken to leave, but did not want to work for a group that would oppose such an important health initiative.
The issue blew up last month when Schwenker encountered a Post-Star photographer at the senior center and ordered the photographer not to take photos of the condoms. The photographer had already taken photos of seniors doing other activities and Cramer posing by the Christmas tree that invited seniors to buy needed items for other seniors. But Schwenker said the condoms should not be mentioned in a profile of Cramer’s first year as director of the center.
Telling the public about the condoms, which had been in the bathrooms for a year, would create “difficult discussions,” he said.
Cramer objected, noting the high rates of HIV and AIDS infections among seniors. But Schwenker said that just two people in Warren County had been diagnosed with HIV or AIDS in the last year, which he said indicated it isn’t a real problem.
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, according to the latest report from the Department of Health.
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 there are more than just those few patients living there. As of 2015, there were a total of 74 people with HIV or AIDS — in all age groups — in Warren County and 105 in Washington County. 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 50 or older, the report says.
That’s why the state Department of Health is emphasizing safe sex for seniors. Cramer said seniors at the center were embarrassed by the topic at first, but then began to discuss more openly the need to plan ahead. Widows confessed they hadn’t had to think about condoms for decades, but were now dating again. Over the course of a year, 750 condoms were taken from the bathrooms, indicating that some people were finding them useful, Cramer said.
After the confrontation with Schwenker, Cramer tried to contact every member of the board of directors, asking for support. Seniors supported her, writing letters to the board and to The Post-Star. And some of the members of the board backed her, but not all of them. That’s when she started shopping her resume, looking for other work. She said she feared she was about to be fired, but also said she needed to find a new job so that she could walk out on principle, rather than being forced out.
The senior center is located at the Queensbury Town Hall complex. Supervisor John Strough said he was surprised by the furor.
“I didn’t anticipate this issue would become as large and emotional as it has,” he said. “I thought it would blow over.”
He said the town had lost two valuable resources for seniors — Cramer and Schwenker.
“That saddened me. It’s too bad,” he said.
But he added that Cramer was right to talk about condoms.
“The issue is an important one to talk about. I know we don’t like talking about it,” he said. “It’s a health thing. It’s worth discussing.”