Funding, Management Problems Lead Baltimore HIV/AIDS Organization To Close
Baltimore is set to lose its oldest and largest HIV/AIDS service provider, the Baltimore Sun reports. According to the Sun, the Health Education Resource Organization -- which provides services to as many as 3,000 people annually and was once considered a model for international groups -- will close on Wednesday because of funding and management problems.
The Sun reports that private donations to HERO have decreased as HIV/AIDS has become a more manageable disease. In addition, although the organization used to be the only one of its kind, there are now about one dozen or more similar clinics and organizations in the city. The Sun reports that a financial scandal five years ago "left questions about the organization's management practices, further impeding its ability to raise money."
About one year ago, HERO stopped providing clinical services, and employees have been leaving at a steady pace, according to the Sun. It was also revealed this summer that HERO sometimes failed to make payroll and pay its subcontractors. According to the Sun, the city Health Department earlier this month concluded that the organization "was in such dire shape that its federal grant money should be pulled, leaving it all but penniless." The Sun reports that HERO's grant money and clients will be diverted next month to places such as Total Health Care, Women Accepting Responsibility, Chase-Brexton medical clinic and Johns Hopkins Hospital. Baltimore Health Commissioner Joshua Sharfstein said, "The concern was that HERO would just shut down one day and leave clients with nowhere to go. We had to get people into other programs before that happened." However, Alta Cannaday, president of HERO's board of directors, questioned whether other organizations are capable of treating HERO's former clients. "The clients we serve are often homeless. Some are recovering from substance abuse. Everybody doesn't do a great job handling this population. There is no other agency in place to provide that kind of service to people," Cannaday said (Bykowicz, Baltimore Sun, 11/24).
HERO for years "was one of the most active, best-funded clinical support groups for people with HIV/AIDS in the country," a Sun editorial says, adding, "It provided counseling, medical care, a place to gather and a sympathetic ear to patients who often had nowhere else to turn at a time when AIDS was poorly understood and its victims often stigmatized as unworthy of help." According to the editorial, HERO's "collapse is a sad coda to the contributions of a once-revered local icon," and "past and present HERO clients are shocked and saddened by the news" of its closure. "Aside from its medical, legal and counseling services, HERO gave a lesson in compassion to a city that would become a center of the epidemic," the editorial says, concluding, "And as soon as effective treatments became available, HERO began saving lives. It is likely the epidemic here would have been far worse if not for HERO's courageous, pioneering work. For that, Baltimore always will owe it a debt of gratitude" (Baltimore Sun, 11/25).