On June 19th, The Georgia Voice reported that AID Atlanta was “joining forces” with the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), based in Los Angeles. In the seven months since that announcement, there has been talk of crushing debt, poor decision-making, the mysterious dissolution of the AID Atlanta board of directors, and no new information on AID Atlanta’s future from AHF.

Our community deserves better. As a major AIDS service organization in our area operating off of taxpayer dollars and local donations, AID Atlanta has a duty to the community to be transparent and accountable for the decisions on how money was spent in the past, to make clear who is controlling the organization presently, and to clearly communicate future plans to fight HIV and save lives in our area.

AID Atlanta was founded in 1982 by a committed group of local volunteers to address the early days of the AIDS crisis in the gay community. Through the years, the organization has provided life-saving service and education to thousands in the Atlanta area. Its annual AIDS Walk Atlanta is among the largest in the country and provides funding for numerous other local AIDS organizations. Their staff and volunteers are on the front lines, and we should all thank them for their service to the community.

Sadly, the organization has recently experienced serious problems. Board strife and leadership turnover have become commonplace: There have been five different executive directors in a three-year period. There are frequent stories of poor service and facilities. The organization ran up millions of dollars in debt to build a poorly conceived pharmacy, primary care center and the Mark B. Rinder Center for Wellness. Their most recent publicly available financial audit shows they ended 2014 more than $1 million in debt. There was talk that AID Atlanta was days away from closing its doors last spring, which reportedly necessitated the takeover by AHF — itself, no stranger to heated disputes about its management decisions. There has been little public discussion about the decisions leading to this situation and no transparency about the terms of the AHF takeover or what will be done about this massive debt.

To give just one example of the discussions that need to take place but have not as of yet: money squandered in their failed attempt to become a comprehensive primary care center complete with new x-ray equipment – or how they plan to recover these costs. How many necessary services have gone unfunded because of this? How many fewer lives were saved to pay for an x-ray machine sitting unused? Where was their board of directors during the decision-making and how could they be so negligent?

Beyond programmatic and financial questions, however, is the basic question of who is running AID Atlanta today. While board co-chair Chip Newton stressed in June that this was a “partnership” between the two organizations, the AID Atlanta board has quietly disappeared from their website, replaced by a local “Advisory Board” and the “AIDS Healthcare Foundation National Board Leaders.” Who is running AID Atlanta if there is no local board of directors? A “partnership” doesn’t involve dissolving one organization’s board and replacing it with another. AID Atlanta has a responsibility to answer these basic questions about its leadership organization immediately.

The Atlanta community and our local media need to demand answers from AID Atlanta. If mistakes have been made, let’s acknowledge and learn from them. Atlanta is in the midst of a major crisis of new HIV infections, particularly among young gay men. What’s more, the CDC says only a third of people with HIV are getting the care they need. Atlanta needs strong leadership in the fight against HIV and needs organizations worthy of the full support of the community they serve.

Jonathan Russell has spent two decades advocating for LGBT rights and HIV care and research in Washington DC and Atlanta. He is a native New Orleanian and referees gay league flag football.

Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Georgia Voice editorial staff or publisher. 

3 Responses

  1. Andy

    This organization has gone into chaos since Tracy Elliot left, and he left because the direction the board wanted to take was financial suicide. Sad this has happened to what once was a superb organization.

    Reply
  2. Mark S. King

    This sad community disaster began long before AHF showed up to pick the bones of a once-great agency. AHF is a shrewd opportunist and nothing more; consuming AID Atlanta is straight out of their playbook from their take-overs in others cities.

    The larger threat now is AHF’s insane PrEP denialism in the face of actual efficacy and patient compliance, both of which are quite high (and championed by every global agency and health concern around the world). Their disdain toward those they purport to serve runs counter to everything we know about effective HIV prevention. The empire-building of this behemoth agency has crushed community-born agencies in city after city around the country.

    AHF may have consumed AID Atlanta “fair and square,” but that does not mean those who care about community-based health outreach to gay men and other at-risk populations should not confront them at every turn. Expect fear-and shame-based marketing campaigns (and more misleading statements about PrEP) to increase, now that they own this market. And that about sums up their approach: Atlanta isn’t a community to AHF. It is a market to conquer.

    I applaud this opinion piece and I DO believe it should openly “reflect the opinions” of GA Voice staff a publisher, who know as well as anyone just how terrible these developments are. Hopefully, the steamrolling AHF advertising budget will not keep GA Voice from speaking out, in its own editorial voice, very soon and very often.

    Mark S. King
    Former AID Atlanta Director of Education (1995-1999)

    Reply
  3. dan

    They are also not taking walk in client/consumers anymore. A prior appointment is necessary to be seen.

    Reply

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