Sunday, October 25, 2009

Q-Notes: NC AIDS Organization Collapses

There's vexing news out of North Carolina, about the collapse of a local AIDS service organization, recently plagued by questionable leadership and accounting practice. The Q-Notes newspaper has been covering this unfolding story for a number of months, and last week reporter Matt Comer broke the news about the organization's failure:

After almost 25 years of service to the greater Charlotte-metro area, a local AIDS service organization has made the decision to close shop in the midst of internal problems, staff resignations, dwindling resources and claims of financial mismanagement.

Metrolina AIDS Project (MAP), originally founded by six gay men in 1986, has faced a tumultuous two years. Q-Notes first reported on some financial problems in February 2008 and again in January and February this year.

On Oct. 22, the MAP board of directors made the decision to close the organization, according to a press release issued shortly after 3 p.m. on Friday. The organization has not decided on an exact date to cease operations. [...]

Adding to the fiscal woes were not the only serious matters for the board of directors to address:

Friday’s announcement comes just four days after the board announced to staff that executive director Dr. Jose R. Hennessey Diaz had been placed on temporary suspension pending an investigation into “reports on matters of significance,” according to an Oct. 19 email from board chair Shawn McMaster obtained by Q-Notes on Oct. 21.

At the request of the board, Diaz resigned his position with MAP on Friday, according to the release.

It is not clear why Diaz was first suspended or why the board later asked him to resign, but questions regarding his medical credentials have been rumored among community members for months. [...]

Diaz said he worked under provisional medical licenses while overseeing research studies with Bronx Lebanon Hospital Center in New York and the University of California-San Francisco.

“You cannot become licensed until you have completed a full residency and passed level one and two of your boards and level three,” he said. “I didn’t go through that process. I came here as a foreign medical graduate.” [...]

Q-Notes also reports that Diaz and another executive were receiving a combined $3,000 monthly toward their rents, and that many local advocates expressed concerned with high salaries for Diaz and other top leaders at the Metrolina AIDS Project.

I applaud reporter Comer for his comprehensive article this week, which looked at a remarkable number of factors leading to the demise of the agency, and for his past coverage of the problems there. Comer raised the matter of how the collapse will affect the local people with AIDS population, but no openly-identified person with AIDS was quoted, so I emailed him and asked why this was. Here is his thoughtful response:

Thanks for the message. I appreciate it when folks reach out to me when they have concerns about a story, allowing me the opportunity to respond. So often folks simply lash out without first getting a response from journalists or writers. [...]

I did talk to a couple MAP clients. None were willing to go on the record with their thoughts, concerns or reactions. [...] Hopefully, I'll also be able to write-up a second piece exploring the history of MAP, talk to a few of their founders and I'll try my best to get a couple clients or other HIV+ folks to go on the record in that piece. [...]

[Earlier this year] HRSA had put Ryan White funds on hold, but the hold was later lifted and that "restricted draw down" was put in place. In February, the local United Way put the group on a probationary status. You can read our February piece here:

In the coming weeks, we'll be following up on this story from the client angle, speaking to clients and other local AIDS service organizations (and the county) who will be responsible for providing care to MAP's clients. [...]
This fiasco is clearly far from being over, and the coverage by Comer in Q-Notes is a vivid reminder of why we still very much need a gay press to follow AIDS institutions and devote the proper amount of space to the troubles. And I offer nothing but praise to Comer for publicly committing to do his best to include the voices of PWAs in future pieces.

I'm sure it's no picnic being publicly identified as a PWA in North Carolina and potentially increasing the stigma associated with living with HIV, especially outside of New York or San Francisco, but it's crucial that PWA voices affected by the collapse of Metrolina AIDS Project speak up.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dr. Diaz has also left a former nanny and housekeeper unpaid, for $1800 and $2000, respectively. All requests for payment have gone unanswered