Village Voice: Leaked City Document Sparks Fears And Frustrations for New Yorkers with HIV/AIDS

Leaked City Document Sparks Fears And Frustrations for New Yorkers with HIV/AIDS

By Sam Levin Thu., Feb. 23 2012 at 6:00 PM

An HIV/AIDS advocacy group has got its hands on an internal government document that the group says is cause for major concern — and not just because the city is making policy changes behind closed doors, advocates said today.

Voices Of Community Advocates & Leaders (VOCAL-NY), an organization that advocates for the rights of HIV-positive New Yorkers, released a document last night that organizers say outlines a risky restructuring of the city agency responsible for supporting this population.

The document, a letter from the Human Resources Administration commissioner to “senior staff,” with the subject “Agency Reorganization,” lays out a plan to alter the oversight system for New Yorkers who rely on the HIV/AIDS Services Administration, or HASA, which is a part of the city’s HRA agency.

The letter, dated February 16th and written by Commissioner Robert Doar, says, “I have determined that an organizational restructuring is necessary.” In the letter, Doar writes that this reorganization of HRA must take place as a result of changes to Medicaid and national Health Care that “will have a fundamental impact on HRA’s programs and the City’s future role in the delivery of health care.”

As part of the necessary changes, Doar writes that as of March 1st — a week from today — the HIV/AIDS Services Administration will become a part of Customized Assistance Services (CAS): “There is substantial alignment and overlap in the mission and populations served by both HASA and CAS, and this change will enable an even closer collaboration among these programs.”

Let’s not get lost in the acronyms and confusing bureaucratic reshuffling here. Currently,HASA, under HRA, is responsible for helping New Yorkers with AIDS or symptomatic HIV access benefits and social services, such as housing, financial security, and medical care.

CAS, also under HRA, is a welfare-to-work program for clients who have disabilities and medical conditions. It is designed to help provide services to New Yorkers who remain on cash assistance and struggle with medical and mental health problems and drug abuse.

For the advocates who obtained the city’s memo, one of the central concerns in this possible reconfiguration is whether this would change the work requirements for those struggling with HIV and AIDS. Under HASA, those with disabilities or continual health problems, can have work exemption. So when they saw that the city is going to move these clients under a program that is focused on jobs and employment opportunities, it raised some eyebrows — though VOCAL-NY stressed in its release that it doesn’t actually know what the potential fall-out could be.

Additionally, VOCAL-NY is concerned about bringing New Yorkers with HIV/AIDS under the jurisdiction of CAS and its associated WeCARE program, which, according to some reports, has a reputation of poor job training and placement, unnecessary sanctions and case closings, and problematic medical assessments.

If that was all too confusing, above all else, the advocates said they are angry because this move signifies a serious lack of transparency — a reorganization that they said was not presented to HASA clients, service providers, or the City Council for feedback. (A rep from VOCAL-NY said that the organization got its hands on the document when someone from HASA accidentally forwarded it to someone close to the advocacy group).

And when programs within a city agency are folded into each other, it often raises concerns about potential loss of services or resources, advocates added.

“Some people want to go back to work. I don’t think I’m physically able to do it,” Bobby Tolbert, a 59-year-old HASA client, told Runnin’ Scared this morning, expressing his concerns about the impact this move might have on employment standards HIV-positive residents.

Tolbert, who serves on the board of directors of VOCAL-NY, is a disabled Bronx resident who is HIV-positive and has been with HASA since 1995.

“I see a pattern of [HRA and HASA] being secretive,” he said. “It could be brought to the City Council, or they could have a press conference discussing this in the open with a town hall meeting…They should do things publicly so everyone can share their opinions rather than letting them know after they’ve already made the decision.” (He said he was still really concerned with a drug screening policy and budget cuts, which the group protested last week).

Read the full article here.

HIV/AIDS, Media Coverage

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