February 27, 2013

February 27, 2013
NAPWA: What’s the rest of the story?

Welcome to another day in my life. Today is Wednesday and we have almost made it through the middle of another work week. I hope you are having a beary safe and great week so far. It is another busy week for Dab the AIDS Bear and me.

In the past several days, I blogged about NAPWA (National Association of People with AIDS) filing for bankruptcy after serving people with HIV/AIDS for 30 years. Today I will expand with more information I have received about why NAPWA failed.

The announcement did not come as a surprise, since I had predicted that they would fail based on an objective review of available financial data. Added to the financial analysis was a deep seated belief that the agency had lost their way. Purporting to be the voice for people living with AIDS, I found the arrogance and unwillingness of the NAPWA staff leadership to answer emails and simple requests for information to be very concerning.

Tyler TerMeer, the current Chairman of the NAPWA Board of Trustees, assumed office during 2012. Tyler was responsive to my requests; in fact we had a lengthy phone conversation in August of last year. During this conversation, I told Tyler that it was my opinion that he had just assumed leadership of an organization poised to fail and that regardless of the efforts he may bring to his position, it was most likely simply too late. In other words, he would be the last Board Chair of NAPWA.

When I talked to Tyler we had not yet learned of the pending resignation of Frank Oldham, NAPWA’s President/CEO. We had not heard the rumblings of possible financial improprieties at NAPWA.

One source familiar with NAPWA and some of its board members said the bankruptcy filing follows reports late last year that as much as $700,000 in NAPWA funds was either missing or unaccounted for.

According to the source, the discovery that funds were unaccounted for prompted the board to ask the Montgomery County States Attorney’s office to investigate the matter.

Ramon Korionoff, a spokesperson for the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office, would neither confirm nor deny his office was investigating NAPWA’s finances, saying the office never discloses an ongoing investigation.

Questions about the reported missing funds surfaced at a time when NAPWA was facing a financial crisis that, among other things, prevented it from paying the rent for its Silver Spring, Md., offices for several months and prevented it from meeting its payroll.

The bankruptcy filing shows that many of NAPWA’s former employees are listed as creditors who are owed sums of money ranging from several hundred dollars to more than $4,000.

NAPWA’s landlord, Brookfield Properties, is owed $75,000 in back rent, according to the bankruptcy filing.

Last October, Frank Oldham, who served as NAPWA’s president and CEO since 2006, announced his resignation effective Dec. 31. But Oldham left his post in November, one month earlier than expected, sources familiar with the group said, raising speculation that he was forced out by the board.

In what the group called a restructuring initiative to cut costs, the board dismissed NAPWA’s Executive Vice President Stephen Bailous, in November.

Among the creditors listed in the bankruptcy filing is the District of Columbia HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, and Sexually Transmitted Disease Administration (HAHSTA), which reportedly is owed $54,000. It couldn’t immediately be determined why NAPWA owes money to the D.C. AIDS administration. However, NAPWA has received grants and contracts from HAHSTA in recent years to provide AIDS-related services.

What we did hear as the year wound down were press releases announcing Frank’s retirement. We received self-congratulatory press releases that extolled the virtues of NAPWA and with a very broad brush heard statements that said, in essence, that all AIDS organizations are suffering due to the economy and loss of funding, etc.

The press releases did nothing to quell my concerns. In fact, they simply ramped up the volume on an agency screaming about their relevance at a time when employees were going with out paychecks, rent was going unpaid and most mysteriously, Frank Oldham shows up on the bankruptcy filing as owing NAPWA more than $80,000.00.

Yes, there is more to this story and there are many questions to be asked and answered. I am pleased that the Maryland State Attorney’s office is investigating this matter. Hopefully, they will ask questions that NAPWA leadership has, to this point, been unwilling to answer. Hopefully, we will be able to understand how a board of trustees, elected to be the fiduciaries of the organization, closed their eyes for so long and allowed this to happen.

This may be the end of NAPWA, but it definitely is not the end of this story.

Hope you have a beary safe and great Wednesday!

Until we meet again; here's wishing you health, hope, happiness and just enough.

big bear hug,

Daddy Dab