But the list can be used as a “powerful tool” to apply for more federal money to be used for HIV prevention, Fitzgerald said.

“We instituted that [ADAP waiting list] in Georgia to illustrate the need and document the need,” she said. “By using that large number [of people on the waiting list] we’ve applied for an additional $3 million from the CDC,” she said.

“The existence of a waiting list is a powerful tool for us when applying for federal funds.”

Internal investigation

Georgia’s bid for federal funding to help ADAP comes as the state HIV Unit undergoes an internal investigation to determine if the unit — as well as community-based organizations, such as those that conduct outreach to high risk populations including gay and bisexual men — uses the money currently received from the CDC wisely.

“The investigation was initiated by several factors,” Fitzgerald said. “As a clinician, I didn’t like that there were 1,600 people on the ADAP waiting list. Then we started looking at some of the community-based organizations and some are spending $25 a person, some $75 a person, some more. We want to make sure we are spending money effectively.”

In a recent interview with GA Voice, Mark Douglas, a co-founder and the executive director of My Brothaz Home in Savannah and also co-chair of the Georgia HIV Prevention Planning Group, said he and others are frustrated with trying to fulfill their promises to their communities when the HIV Unit sometimes delivers grants months late. The delays force some agencies to lay people off as well as try to rush a year’s worth of work into just a few months.

“The bureaucracy just takes forever. There are delays [in getting grants]. Sometimes it takes six months or more. That’s my biggest complaint,” Douglas said. “And that makes it hard on us to deliver contracts.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently reported that some clients who rely on the Healthcare Insurance Program to cover premiums for their AIDS medications get cut off suddenly because the HIV Unit fails to deliver checks on time.

While Fitzgerald acknowledges there is much improvement needed in the HIV Unit, she is not willing to take the full blame. She said that some community-based organizations — she declined to say which ones — can take between 28-75 days to get the properly filled out paperwork to the HIV Unit in order for it to cut a check to a client for medications.

This delay of getting in the proper paperwork, which is typically sent back and forth several times using regular mail rather than online between the HIV Unit and the agencies, is also a major reason money is not distributed in a timely manner.

Fitzgerald said she hopes the paperwork can soon be completed online. She also said she’d like to have a person from her office, who knows how to fill out the paperwork correctly the first time, in every agency.

“If it takes between 28 to 75 days to get us the proper paperwork, that’s not acceptable,” Fitzgerald said. “I’ve been told the average time it takes us when we get the proper paperwork to cut a check is 10 days.”

 

Top photo: Brenda Fitzgerald, state commissioner of the Department of Public Health, says an investigation into the HIV Unit’s spending practices and how community organizations use funding is near completion. (by Dyana Bagby)

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