Baltimore-Based AIDS Group Announces New Initiatives To Strengthen Clinic Following Audits, Board Member Departures
The Health Education Resource Organization, one of Baltimore's most comprehensive HIV/AIDS groups, on Monday announced new initiatives that officials said will "strengthen and revitalize" the not-for-profit clinic following a "year of turmoil," the Baltimore Sun reports. One year ago, former HERO Deputy Director Indira Kotval accused Executive Director Dr. Leonardo Ortega of misusing the organization's funds to hire a personal trainer and give himself thousands of dollars in bonuses. Kotval was fired three days after making the accusations. Ortega has denied her claims, according to the Sun (Anderson, Baltimore Sun, 3/15). HERO's board of directors in March 2004 launched an investigation into the allegations, and Baltimore Health Commissioner Peter Beilenson asked FBI to investigate. However, a state audit of a $50,000 grant and a city review of HERO's use of $1.4 million in federal funds found no wrongdoing. In addition, HERO barely escaped a revocation of its Maryland Association of Nonprofit Organizations seal of excellence, which it received in 2001 for complying with MANO standards of accountability and governance (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 5/25/04). Over the past year, eight board members have resigned and six employees have been laid off, according to the Sun. Sara Smalley, a HERO board member who will take over as president in July, said she plans to rebuild the organization's board of directors and donor base. Although the FBI investigation is ongoing, no criminal charges have been filed, and the agency has not recently requested any documents, according to Smalley, the Sun reports. "I'm glad to say that our doors are open to all the clients we serve," HERO Board President Carlton Smith said, adding, "Now we can say that we have moved forward."
HERO -- which serves about 4,000 clients and has provided medical care, legal assistance and counseling since 1983 -- will begin emphasizing primary health care to help HIV-positive people reduce their number of hospital visits and "live longer, more productive lives," the Sun reports. Staff members will track clients' doctor visits and medication needs, and patients will be required to provide their viral load counts every six months to track treatment progress. The group also plans to promote community awareness about the disease and "step up" fundraising efforts, according to the Sun (Baltimore Sun, 3/15).