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HIV/AIDS agency BEHIV folds; AFC responds to charges (UPDATE)
News update Sunday, Jan. 16, 2011
by Joe Erbentraut
2011-01-12

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In a statement released Jan. 14, the Rogers Park-based HIV/AIDS service organization Better Existence with HIV ( BEHIV ) announced it would be closing its doors after 21 years of service to the community.

The news follows on the heels of Executive Director Eric Nelson's departure late last year and confirms rumors of financial trouble within the organization. According to the statement, issued by Interim Executive Director Julie Supple and Board President Matthew Gibbs, the organization is now working to transfer its active service contracts to other agencies, including Chicago House, whom it noted as "an enormous help during this difficult time."

"Over the last two decades, BEHIV has provided case management, prevention, housing, mental health, educational outreach, art and massage therapy to those affected with HIV/AIDS. The agency has literally reached thousands of people throughout its tenure. And it has been an amazing run," the statement read.

"With that being said, how did we get here?" the statement continued. " Alas, community-based organizations are finding it more and more difficult to maintain their current level of service due to outside factors beyond their control; BEHIV has not been immune to these factors."

In addition to citing reduced individual giving over the last two years, BEHIV also indicated its changing funding relationship with the AIDS Foundation of Chicago ( AFC ) as another factor in their decision to shutter. Specifically, BEHIV pointed to a "pending decision" by AFC to suspend its allocation of Ryan White Part A case management funding of agencies who, like BEHIV, do not have an on-site medical clinic.

"With the environment for funding becoming more and more competitive, AFC is encouraging smaller organizations to merge or forcing the choice of consolidation," the statement read. "There were pending changes in 2011 that would continue to affect BEHIV's ability to sustain operations."

In response to BEHIV's statement, AFC Vice President ( and incoming President/CEO ) David Ernesto Munar told the Windy City Times that his organization was saddened by the news and described the organization as "a strong community partner" and "another casualty of this tremendously difficult economy."

Munar said BEHIV's reference to AFC's pending decision on Ryan White Part A funding is "an inaccurate description." Munar said his organization is still awaiting the city's decision on Ryan White funding and denied that case-management funding would be denied to BEHIV on the basis of the organization not having an on-site clinic. AFC expects news on its funding application sometime within the coming weeks, before the March 1 start of the new contract year.

"We've been a long-time funder of BEHIV through housing and case management services and have worked very closely with them over many years and we're proud of our record with them. What's happened at BEHIV is certainly not a result of any decision we've made alone," Munar said. "We know we've been a strong partner [ to BEHIV ] and we're doing all we can to ensure the continuity of care for the individuals living with HIV that relied on BEHIV."

Munar did not deny that AFC has engaged in conversation with a number of the city's HIV/AIDS organizations about sustainability including the possibility of mergers and consolidations to avoid organizations coming to the point of closing their doors.

"We don't want to see any agencies go away or programs disappear and don't want that expertise to go away, but that requires some work on behalf of the agency's management and board to think critically about their long-term longevity," Munar said. "Unless agencies are willing to do that, some many not make it as standalone organizations. That's the reality of the economics of 2011."

Concluding its statement, BEHIV thanked its funders, staff and board, and quoted a letter from a former client who "wish [ ed ] there were more places like this, for all those people out there still beating their wings against the winds alone."

"BEHIV leaves the community with pride, grace and a sense of accomplishment; we have succeeded in our mission, which quite simply has been to help people live," the statement read.

******

Better Existence with HIV ( BEHIV ) has decided to close down after more than two decades of service. A press release is below:

"After 21 years of service to the community, BEHIV is sadly closing its doors.

"BEHIV's staff and board of directors are extremely sad that this day has come, but also extremely proud of what we have accomplished in the last 21 years. BEHIV was founded in 1989 in response to the growing number of people living with HIV in Northern Chicago, Evanston and surrounding suburban communities. The first program offerings included a support group for people living with HIV/AIDS, a support group for partners/spouses and family members, and a drop-in program. In its first year of operation, with one paid staff member and a corp of dedicated volunteers, BEHIV served 48 people. Since then, the agency grew dramatically in response to the need for direct care services and prevention education.

"Over the last two decades, BEHIV has provided case management, prevention, housing, mental health, educational outreach, art and massage therapy to those affected with HIV/AIDS. The agency has literally reached thousands of people throughout its tenure. And it has been an amazing run.

"With that being said, how did we get here? Alas, community-based organizations are finding it more and more difficult to maintain their current level of service due to outside factors beyond their control; BEHIV has not been immune to these factors. The economy in 2009 and 2010 was horrendous and individual giving suffered as well—down 25 percent nationwide for charitable organizations.

"BEHIV's relationship with the AIDS Foundation of Chicago ( AFC ) has also changed over time. With the environment for funding becoming more and more competitive, AFC is encouraging smaller organizations to merge or forcing the choice of consolidation.

"There were pending changes in 2011 that would continue to affect BEHIV's ability to sustain operations. One major change is the probability of AFC to receive the award for Ryan White Part A for case management, it has been pre-determined that agencies without an on-site medical clinic would not be part of on-going Ryan White Part A case management services. This would mean that BEHIV would lose the majority of its case management program and funding for this service. This pending decision by AFC will likely impact other AIDS service organizations as well, not just BEHIV.

"Before we officially close our doors, our priority is and always has been our clients. BEHIV has been busy terminating our active contracts, so that all of our clients can transition to other agencies to continue to receive much needed services.

"Chicago House and Social Service Agency has been an enormous help during this difficult time. We are hopeful that a great deal of our clients will transition to Chicago House for continued services.

"BEHIV would like to thank the individuals, the foundations and corporations, grant funders, volunteers and all of our supporters that made it possible to succeed. BEHIV would also like to send a special thank you to the staff that has been dedicated, loyal, talented and passionate about what they do. They have worked many hours and delivered excellent services to our clients and we are extremely grateful. BEHIV is also indebted to our Board of Directors, for their time, talent, guidance and generous financial support.

"BEHIV has seen the course of HIV/AIDS treatments move from one of illness with end of life care to long term management of a chronic condition. While many advances have been made in the HIV/AIDS field, there remains a dire need for comprehensive social services, mental health and preventative services if we ever truly want to win the war against this virus. On behalf of BEHIV's Board, staff and volunteers, it has been an honor being part of the fight against HIV/AIDS for over 21 years.

"BEHIV leaves the community with pride, grace and a sense of accomplishment; we have succeeded in our mission, which quite simply, has been to help people live.

"As a final note, this is a quote from a letter written by a BEHIV client who has passed away but is certainly not forgotten. We believe it sums up the impact BEHIV has had on all of us; 'Thank you…for letting me share with you how important BEHIV is, not only to me but to all the HIVERS, each of whom have their own stories and their own spirits to keep intact. I only wish there were more places like this, for all those people out there still beating their wings against the winds alone.'"


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