AID Atlanta in ‘significant debt’ as it becomes affiliated with AIDS Healthcare Foundation

AID Atlanta Interim CEO James Hughey said AIDS Healthcare Foundation was one of numerous organizations he spoke to when it was decided the Atlanta-based AIDS service organization needed to team up with another in order to remain sustainable.

“Significant debt” was one reason AID Atlanta sought out to become an affiliate of AHF, Hughey acknowledged in a Friday interview with Georgia Voice, but he declined to speak in exact numbers.

The 21-member board voted unanimously on Thursday to approve joining forces with AHF, he added. AHF operates in 15 states and 36 countries.

AID Atlanta former CEO Jose Diaz. (File photo)
AID Atlanta former CEO Jose Diaz. (File photo)

Hughey, who came on board to head up AID Atlanta in February after the resignation of Jose Diaz, said AID Atlanta had strayed from its mission and he feels AHF is the “solid partner” it needs to get focused back on mission of serving HIV/AIDS clients in the metro Atlanta region.

“I’ve met with as many community leaders as I can, I’ve met with every one of our 21 grantors, and each and everyone is in support of this. I think this is a great opportunity for us to be a solid anchor,” he said.

AID Atlanta boasts a $7.6 million annual budget with its main site located in Midtown Atlanta and a clinic in Newnan, Georgia. AHF also has a clinic located in Lithonia, Georgia. AID Atlanta provides services to over 50,000 individuals per year, according to the nonprofit.

Hughey stressed that AID Atlanta would remain AID Atlanta and AHF would not be taking over any services, such as HIV testing, he said. AID Atlanta is one of several affiliates that are part of what is called the AHF Federation. Other affiliates include: AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland; WORLD (Women Organized to Respond to Life-threatening Disease) in Oakland, California; AIDS Center of Queens County in New York; South Side Help Center in Chicago; Island Coast AIDS Network (ICAN) Florida; and the Impulse Group, an international volunteer group.

“AHF is not taking over anything to my understanding, and I have a clear understanding. What we are is an affiliate. What AHF wants is to get people tested, linked to care and in to care. We will still be AID Atlanta,” he said.

AID Atlanta strayed from mission

Last year under Diaz’s leadership, AID Atlanta announced it was expanding its services and broadening its scope by making the transformation from an HIV/AIDS service organization to a comprehensive $700,000 health center offering primary care. The primary care services will be provided by a new team of providers, including a new internist who is board certified in infectious diseases, a nurse practitioner with HIV and women’s health care experience, and a part-time psychiatrist. AID Atlanta also be able to offer laboratory services as well as radiological services like X-ray and ultrasound.yrt

AID Atlanta wanted to become a federally qualified health center (FQHC), Hughey noted.

But this idea of focusing on other areas of health care other than HIV/AIDS, as well as a CEO turnover, contributed to AID Atlanta becoming a bit lost, Hughey said.

By teaming up with AHF, AID Atlanta is expected to get back on track of its mission of serving those with HIV/AIDS, he added.

What Hughey considers the biggest benefit of affiliating with AHF is AHF’s focus on getting 20 million people with HIV linked to care, he said.

Atlanta ASOs do talk a lot about the need for HIV testing, but there is not a lot of talk about the ability to get those who test positive into care, Hughey said.

“I don’t think we are having enough conversations about that. What AHF does is regardless of a persons ability to pay is to get them into care. This is a mission we all need to be focused on. The numbers vary, but some 16,000 [HIV-positive] people are not in care, and another 17,000 to 18,000 do not know they are HIV positive and are not in care,” he said.

Controversy surrounding AIDS Healthcare Foundation and PrEP

AHF President Michael Weinstein.
AHF President Michael Weinstein.

What about AHF’s controversial stance on pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, that is used by HIV-negative people to reduce their risk of contracting HIV? AHF’s president, Michael Weinstein, has called PrEP, currently distributed by Gilead as Truvada, as a “party drug,” alleging that gay and bisexual men would only use the pill as a way to tell themselves it was OK to have casual and anonymous sex.

Hughey said as he understand it, Weinstein is not opposed to PrEP, and he pointed to an editorial ad AHF placed in several LGBT newspaper this week as part of a new campaign.

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“What did you get from that that says he does not support PrEP?” Hughey asked the Georgia Voice.

Hughey then said AID Atlanta has a grant with Gilead—a one-year, $79,000 grant—to issue PrEP. But, he added, PrEP is not being readily prescribed in metro Atlanta because of the high costs associated with it.

“If you look at PrEP in the community, patients don’t have ability to pay. There is little use of PrEP. It is difficult to pay for, including the positions [to prescribe] and labs. I hope we can bring that into the discussion—how do we pay for it?” he said. “I don’t hear that in any dialogue.”

Mark King, a former staff member of AID Atlanta and a longtime HIV activist now living in Baltimore, Maryland, has written about AHF’s troublesome stance on PrEP at his blog, My Fabulous Disease. He told the Georgia Voice he was very disturbed by this new relationship and issued a statement.

“As a former longtime senior staff person (Director of Education 1995-1999) this news breaks my heart. No agency in this country would willingly crawl into bed with the bullying, denialist, famously litigious AIDS Healthcare Foundation,” King said.  “I can only assume that dire financials straits led AID Atlanta to this heartbreaking decision. As most any advocate around the country will tell you, AHF has a long reputation of gobbling up agencies in their path of empire-building—and threatening lawsuits against those who oppose them. This has happened in other cities, with other agencies who put their trust in AHF and found themselves consumed by AHF’s corporate greed and ideology.”

King added, “AHF’s campaign of misinformation around PrEP makes them the most dangerous entity in the HIV arena right now. Their stubborn denial of the scientific proof that pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) has now been proven marvelously effective has made them outliers and outcasts in the prevention arena. They have been compared with early ‘AIDS Denialists’ who believe HIV is not the cause of AIDS. No less than International AIDS Society President Chris Beyrer has denounced their position and publicly mocked them for their unhelpful bias. AHF has even printed half-truths and outright lies in full page ads against the use of PrEP. Now that they have swallowed up AID Atlanta, you can expect to see the same misinformation in Atlanta. And that is a frightening prospect indeed, considering the high rates of HIV infection and the urgent need for prevention tools such as PrEP.”

Hughey said AID Atlanta would continue to prescribe PrEP if it was in the best interest of the patient.

“What I am really clear on is if a physician and patient agree this is the best for the patient, then we will prescribe PrEP. But the money there is limited, regardless of wanting to do more,” he said.