Promotion of Washington, D.C., HIV/AIDS Administrator Draws Criticism
Ronald Lewis, senior deputy director of the Washington, D.C., Department of Health and chief of the city's HIV/AIDS Administration, on Thursday fielded criticism at a meeting of the City Council's Human Services Committee immediately following the announcement that he will serve as chief operating officer of the health department beginning today, the Washington Post reports. As COO, Lewis will be responsible for overseeing the disbursement of the department's $1.4 billion annual budget, including funding for HIV/AIDS programs, and will oversee HAA. At the meeting, Michael Snoddy, a public health analyst, accused Lewis of "gross mismanagement and abuse of authority," claiming that Lewis and other senior managers at the department threatened to fire anyone who publicized agency failings. He added that "HAA fails to provide critical services and jeopardizes the health and safety of clients they are entrusted to serve by failing to issue grants to providers in a timely and appropriate manner." Following Snoddy's statements, Susan Newton-Rhodes, president of Building Futures, a not-for-profit organization that provides rental housing for HIV-positive people, said that Lewis branded her a "troublemaker" and delayed payments of grants for her organization after she publicly criticized HAA. She said that HAA "is a poorly run city agency that needs to be reformed from the top." Council member David Catania (R) said that HAA was "recklessly and needlessly putting people's lives at risk" with its mismanagement of grants, adding that the agency's actions are "borderline criminal." Outside of the hearing, Lewis said that HAA had given Building Futures multiple advances totaling $300,000 but could not give additional grants to the organization because Building Futures had not properly accounted for the previous advances. Building Futures client Corrie Franks also questioned the reliability of Newton-Rhodes' testimony, saying that the organization has a history of financial problems and that it does "a deplorable job of maintaining its housing," according to the Post (Goldstein, Washington Post, 5/16). Mayor Anthony Williams (D) in January requested that city Inspector General Charles Maddox initiate an investigation to determine the propriety with which the city's HIV/AIDS office handled millions in city and federal funds (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/27).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.