“I came on at the tail end of last year with the board asking me to extend the strategic plan and work with the board to identify the most flexible model that can help us as we enter the new world of the Affordable Care Act,” said Cathy Woolard, who joined AID Atlanta as its interim CEO in November. She is not seeking the full-time position, she said, but is assisting in the search.

The board did not want to rush into hiring a traditional executive director, wanted to look at the structure of the organization and its funding more closely and decided to commit to placing a higher priority and more resources on advocacy and communications, Woolard explained
“The organization is extremely lean. We’ve not been where we want on advocacy,” Woolard said.

Such advocacy includes more lobbying for funding at the state and federal level as well as working to influence policy decisions.

Woolard, a lobbyist for Georgia Equality and Planned Parenthood, said Georgia’s ranking as No. 6 in the nation with the most HIV/AIDS cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, means much more attention needs to be given to the issue, especially by state lawmakers. Gay and bisexual men – especially in the African American community, are the hardest both in Georgia and across the nation, according to the CDC.

“People have no idea how desperate the numbers are, especially among men who have sex with men,” Woolard said. “Oftentimes we speak to [the] easiest group and that’s those right in front of us. We need to reach out to more communities not aware of HIV/AIDS.”

Chip Newton, secretary to the board of directors and CEO search committee chair, said AID Atlanta’s staff is undergoing training to better help clients come Oct. 1 so they know their options and who might be eligible for insurance exchanges.

Unfortunately, because Gov. Nathan Deal refused to expand the Medicaid program that helps poor people along with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, there is a strong possibility of people “slipping through the cracks” and not receiving needed services to stay healthy, and in turn keep others healthy, Newton said.

“We’re also looking at who we can bill that can replace funds that may be drying up,” Newton said. “This sort of strategic initiative is going to be transformative and we need a CEO who can be ready from the start,” he said.

Case management at AID Atlanta’s clinic is a definite success story, said Mark Binder, board chair of AID Atlanta. Of those who remain in care, 90 percent achieve a zero viral load, which is not only good for the client but also means it is nearly impossible for the client to transmit the virus to anyone else. AID Atlanta wants to stay at the percentage and even improve on the score, he said, and having a leader in place dedicated to that is imperative.

Newton said the new CEO must also possess strong leadership and community building skills. Woolard indicated that whoever is selected to lead AID Atlanta into its next phase must have a strong grasp of the medical and insurance environment.

While the Affordable Care Act can be helpful to those with HIV/AIDS because it eliminates the pre-existing condition and provides insurance to everyone, the fact that Medicaid is not extended in Georgia means there will be a gap of people not immediately receiving services. For those with HIV/AIDS, not receiving medication, for example, every day can lead to the virus growing stronger, people becoming sicker and a higher risk of transmission.

“There will be a lot of turmoil for people. No one really knows how this is going to play out,” Woolard said. “This transition piece is going to be challenging. All of our programs have been cut because of the sequestration and the policy [ACA] is great, but implementation is going to be really challenging.”

Photo: Cathy Woolard, interim CEO of AID Atlanta. (File photo)

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