Washington, D.C., HIV/AIDS Administration Director Fired After Questions Raised Over Handling of Federal FundsDistrict of Columbia Department of Health Director Gregg Pane on Tuesday fired HIV/AIDS Administrator Lydia Watts amid questions about how the district's HIV/AIDS Administration has handled federal funds, the Washington Times reports (McElhatton, Washington Times, 8/17). Pane did not give specific reasons for the firing, saying, "I felt that new leadership was needed for getting us where we needed to go" (Labbe, Washington Post, 8/17). The administration in June was criticized in an audit by the district's inspector general for inadequately overseeing organizations that deliver services to HIV-positive residents, sometimes preparing "questionable" reports and funding groups that are not involved with HIV/AIDS (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/27). In addition, a report released last week by the DC Appleseed Center found that the city's response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic has been inadequate and poorly coordinated. The report said, among other things, that city officials were not systematically collecting and analyzing data about the epidemic and not properly coordinating and supervising the organizations that provide services for people living with HIV/AIDS (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 8/11).
Reaction, Next Steps
Watts on Tuesday said she was not angry about Pane's decision, adding that she had worked to reform the system and pushed HIV/AIDS service providers receiving funding to achieve specific results. Watts also said she had managed to shorten the time for provider reimbursements from 120 days to 30 days and had sustained a federal housing program for people living with HIV/AIDS. "I just didn't have the support from the top," Watts said. HIV-positive district resident Barbara Smith, who serves as chair of the Metropolitan Washington Regional Health Services Planning Council, praised Watt's support for people living with HIV/AIDS in the district (Washington Post, 8/17). However, City Council Member David Catania (I) said issues such as late payments to providers did not improve under Watts' tenure. Pane did not name a successor to Watts but said he might do so within a week (Washington Times, 8/17).
Mayor Should Become More Involved in Fight Against HIV/AIDS, Editorial Says
New leadership of the HIV/AIDS Administration should "direct resources where they are most needed," according to a Post editorial. Funds should go to the city's existing clinics where same-day HIV testing should be made available, to prevention education programs in public schools, and to treatment service providers who need help navigating the complex grant process, the editorial says. In addition, Mayor Anthony Williams (D) should take a "hands-on approach" to the city HIV/AIDS epidemic because the district has the "unenviable distinction of being neck and neck with developing countries for the world's HIV Top 10," the Post concludes (Washington Post, 8/17).