Leaders address organization's future
AID Atlanta has become one of the largest HIV/AIDS service organizations in the country in its nearly 35 years in existence, but it’s the last three to four years that have drawn closer attention its way, and not always in a positive manner.
Since June 2012, the organization has had five executive directors, undergone an aggressive expansion to offer primary care services that led to falling nearly $1 million in debt, and last year became an affiliate of a controversial international HIV/AIDS service organization that has put out ads in opposition to PrEP.
AID Atlanta’s leadership is now coming forward to address these and other issues, and starting to engage more with the media and let the community know where the organization stands—and more importantly where it’s headed.
The path to debt
Nicole Roebuck has been on staff at AID Atlanta for nearly 16 years, so she’s seen more at the organization than nearly anyone else. Last October, she took over as interim executive director following the resignation of interim executive director James Hughey.
Of the five executive directors in less than four years, Roebuck points out that three of those were always intended to be interim replacements. This includes her, although she says she has thrown her hat into the ring for the permanent position, which she says the organization will announce in the next couple of months. And one of those permanent executive directors, Jose Diaz, resigned for health reasons.
But AID Atlanta’s leaders say it’s the decision to expand beyond serving just those living with and at risk of contracting HIV/ AIDS that led the agency down a difficult path. They opened up a $700,000 compre- hensive health center in Oct. 2014, the culmination of a plan that had been in the works since that January. By the end of the year, they were nearly $1 million in debt and looking for ways out of it by reaching out to other HIV/ AIDS agencies around the country.
“It went too big, it went too large, too fast,” Roebuck now says. “I think that’s what kind of caused some of the financial issues.” She says the organization has now narrowed its focus back to serving those living with and at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS.
AIDS Healthcare Foundation stance on PrEP
In June 2015, AID Atlanta found someone to absorb its debt, and the announcement raised eyebrows. It was AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), whose president Michael Weinstein drew criticism in 2014 for calling PrEP a “party drug.” Subsequent ad campaigns by AHF (some of which have appeared in the Georgia Voice) have been viewed by many HIV/AIDS activists as anti-PrEP. The group claims that they’ve always had the same stance: they remain opposed to the widespread deployment of PrEP as a community-wide public health intervention, and that it should only be prescribed on a case-by-case basis for high-risk individuals, such as those who are unable or unwilling to use condoms.
But does AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s stance on PrEP affect whether and how often AID Atlanta offers PrEP to those at-risk populations in the metro Atlanta area?
“Absolutely not,” Roebuck says. “We have PrEP patients on a schedule as we speak.” Roebuck says the majority of AID Atlanta’s clients are HIV-positive and therefore would have no use for PrEP, and that their current CDC funds are for HIV testing and prevention but cannot be used for PrEP.
However, they received a $79,000 grant from Gilead—manufacturer of Truvada, the FDA-approved drug for PrEP— last year and they currently have 20 patients on the regimen.
New board of directors
Amended articles of incorporation filed with the Secretary of State’s office last June show that AID Atlanta Incorporated’s sole member is now AIDS Healthcare Foundation, and a 2014 auditor’s report dated July 30, 2015 shows the size of the board of directors was reduced from 22 down to three, and that those members are to be solely selected by AIDS Healthcare Foundation.
A recent update to AID Atlanta’s website shows that the new board of directors includes six people, none of whom are from Georgia (and one of whom is Weinstein). However there is an AID Atlanta advisory board consisting of seven people—the board chair is the same as the former chair of AID Atlanta’s board of directors, Chip Newton.
Newton says there is not much difference between when he and the others were part of the board of directors instead of this newly formed advisory board, which meets quarterly. “Normally the board [of directors] would vote, and right now instead of voting, we provide recommendations on behalf of the advisory board and the local pulse of the community,” he says, adding, “Frankly, they want us to run our own agency. They’re not interested in running the day-to-day operations.” However, Roebuck says she reports directly to Michael Kahane, AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s bureau chief in the southern region.
The advisory board will have input on who becomes AID Atlanta’s permanent executive director, but according to Roebuck the final decision is up to the board of directors. She adds, “I think that’s [the board’s] intent is to consider things locally—the landscape, the relationships, that all needs to be put into consideration.”
“It went too big, it went too large, too fast. I think that’s what kind of caused some of the financial issues.”
—AID Atlanta interim executive director Nicole Roebuck on how the 2014 expansion to primary care services led the agency to end up nearly $1 million in debt
Nicole Roebuck, interim executive director of AID Atlanta, says AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s stance on PrEP does not affect AID Atlanta. (Photo by Patrick Saunders)