Do People Care about AIDS?
Welcome to another day in my life. Today is Monday and I hope you had a safe and great weekend. Dab the AIDS Bear enjoyed being back home in the great warm sunny weather and enjoying some events in town.
So today I would like to talk about public perception about HIV and AIDS. Do People Care about AIDS?
When you have been fighting AIDS as long as I have, it is easy to forget that not everyone shares my sense of urgency about this epidemic. Recently, a friend said to me “You have to remember, people do not care about AIDS anymore.” While I can certainly understand how some could draw this conclusion, I refuse to accept it. It is our job, as a community, to make sure that Americans understand the devastation this epidemic continues to reap on our neighbors, friends and loved ones.
This is why programs like AIDSWatch, which was in Washington, DC last week, are so critical. They provide an opportunity for people living with this disease to tell their own stories, in their own words. It allows brave men and women to educate their members of Congress, not only about the terrible toll of this epidemic, but also the importance of a sustained and committed response from our government.
Still, given these difficult economic times, much of the public’s attention is focused elsewhere. How do you stay relevant and essential? This is the question facing many AIDS organizations. As this disease is constantly evolving, we as a community must also be flexible and adjust to new political and economic realities if we are to be successful.
Here are some thoughts on how you can ensure your agency’s future:
• Be the Best
• Evolve and/or expand your mission
• Consider becoming a Federally Qualified Health Center
Be the Best
In order to be the best, your agency should strive to occupy a unique niche. This might mean that your agency is the only organization in your area that directs its services to a specific segment of the population, or that your agency is the best at providing a specific service within the community at large. Either way, you should always focus on providing your services in the most cost effective and efficient ways possible.
Between state budget cuts and potential federal budget cuts, funding may become even more elusive than it already is. Tough decisions will need to be made. As AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) lists grow, and more people lose their jobs and subsequently their health insurance, funders will be forced to make decisions that could determine the survival of your agency. If they have to choose between your agency and all the others, “Why should they choose you?”
Expand Your Mission
Now is a good time to consider expanding your mission. You have already developed an infrastructure to serve the HIV/AIDS community, maybe its time to look at providing that service to others. Some AIDS food programs have expanded to serve people with other diseases or the elderly. Another tactic may be to expand the types of services that your agency offers to the HIV/AIDS community. Either way, you must be sure that your agency and your staff have the expertise and the passion to support these expansions.
Become a FQHC
Become a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC). It is a good way to insure your future and there is a need for them in our communities. However, becoming a FQHC is a difficult process and will probably require you to hire outside consultants. This program is run by Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), for more information go to: http://bphc.hrsa/ .gov/policy
Many of our communities do not have adequate medical infrastructures and FQHCs are an important component to filling current gaps in services.
I know merger is a difficult concept, but sometimes it can be the best thing for your community and your constituents. If your agency is spending more time securing funding than serving your constituents, it may be better to combine resources with an organization that could assist in more efficiently and effectively providing those services.
If none of these options are possible for your agency, you may need to seriously consider shutting down. While this is always a difficult prospect for anyone to imagine, we must always do what is best for our community and our constituents.
If you must shut down, it is essential that you close in a responsible manner. Tell the truth about your closure, try not to blame others, and remember we all deal with loss in different ways. Help your clients find new agencies to meet their needs and insure confidentiality of their medical records. Your community is going to be looking for answers. Keep them informed of what is happening and try to minimize the blame. Get in front of the story before rumors have a chance to take hold.
The largest payer of HIV/AIDS services, prevention and research is the federal government. No state government, no private foundation, no pharmaceutical company can take the federal government’s place. However, with the new members of Congress, it is going to require a new strategy. We need to have strong policy/advocacy networks in states where we have key Congressional leaders. We need to be able to reach across parties. We need to build upon our advocacy efforts to enhance our community’s level of sophistication even more than we already have.
The public’s attention may be focused elsewhere, but that does not stop our work. As long as there are people living with HIV/AIDS and as long as there are people at risk for getting HIV/AIDS, there will be work and responsibilities. It just makes it harder and requires us to play the game smarter then anyone else.
Thank you for all that you do for your community, people living with HIV/AIDS, and people at risk for getting HIV/AIDS. You may sometimes feel like people have forgotten about AIDS, or that they do not care, but please know that this is not true. And also know that I will always care and be grateful for all you do on behalf of our diverse communities.
Until we meet again; here's wishing you health, hope, happiness and just enough.
big bear hug,