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Planning Council Approves Resolution to Get Clients on ASO Boards

Planning Council Approves Resolution to Get Clients on ASO Boards

Etienne reads resolution calling for Ryan White-funded organizations to have consumers on their boards

New Yorkers living with HIV who access the services of Ryan White-funded organizations struck a symbolic but powerful blow yesterday, asserting their right to have a hand in the running of the organizations intended to help them.

The New York City Ryan White Planning Council passed a resolution 20 to 2 on Thursday calling on non-profit organizations receiving Ryan White Part A funds that primarily serve HIV-positive clients to have a consumer sit on their Board of Directors. While the Department of Health said that the resolution is nonbinding, it nonetheless is a huge credibility boost to the efforts of a group of clients at Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) who have pressed the organization for consumer representation for two years.

The DOH members on the Planning Council were the only members to vote against the resolution.

“You have a Planning Council because of people living with AIDS. You have an agency and a job because of people living with AIDS. I need you and you need me,” said Antionettea Etienne, co-chair of the Planning Council Consumer Advisory Group, in her comments to the full Planning Council. The Consumer Advisory Group had approved the groundbreaking resolution the Saturday prior to this week’s meeting.

There was deliberation and lively audience comments. Speaker after speaker called on the Planning Council to remember the Denver Principles. A half-dozen people living with HIV/AIDS spoke in favor of the resolution, including numerous GMHC clients, as well as longtime AIDS activists Housing Works President and CEO Charles King and POZ founder Sean Strub. Most community-based organizations in New York have signed on to the PWA-empowerment-focused Denver Principles project, and speakers accused these groups of hypocrisy for endorsing PWA involvement without having a board member.

“You signed on to the contract of the Denver Principles and you should live it,” said Russell Stevens, a member of GMHC’s client advisory board. “We who are in the trenches know what’s going on. How can someone on the board [who’s not a client] identify with the garbage we go through every day?”

While Housing Works’ bylaws require one-third of its board of directors to be consumers voted on by other clients, most New York community-based organizations that serve people with HIV/AIDS have no such requirements.

“If we really support the Denver Principles, let’s put some real teeth into it,” King said, noting that Housing Works has been enriched by its consumer board membership

Resolution diluted?

The resolution stated “that all non-profit organizations receiving Ryan White Part A funds shall be required to include no less than one (1) HIV-positive consumer, who is willing to be known as such to the public, and who has been elected by other consumers of that organization to its board of directors, except in the case of grant recipients not directly serving primarily HIV-positive clients, in which case the consumer representative(s) may be elected to that organization’s existing board of directors, advisory board or other appropriate body.”

The resolution that passed was amended from the Consumer Advisory Group’s resolution to exempt organizations that don’t primarily serve HIV-positive clients, such as hospitals and any non-AIDS service organization. The original resolution would have required all bodies receiving Part A funding to have an HIV-positive client on its board of directors. Dena Rakower, a Planning Council member and Bellevue Hospital staffer suggested the amendments.

While no Council members objected, the change angered many of those who spoke at public comment.

“This totally dilutes it!” Strub yelled out.

“The hospitals were happy to take Planning Council money when the new case management proposal came up a few months ago, but they don’t want us on their boards?” said Manuel Rivera, a GMHC client who has been pushing for this resolution.

Win for GMHC Consumer Advisory Board members

According to the DOH staffers in attendance, the Planning Council has no authority to dictate who should serve on the boards of organizations receiving Ryan White funding.

But despite what this might mean on a policy level, the GMHC Community Advisory Board (CAB) members who brought forth this resolution were overjoyed that the Planning Council legitimized their concerns. All groups receiving Ryan White funding are required to have a CAB. As governmental co-chair Jan Carl Park said at Thursday’s meeting, “some work well and some don’t.”

GMHC’s CAB has long raised concerns that GMHC doesn’t listen to its recommendations. GMHC has refused to appoint a consumer board member, citing reasons of confidentiality and other concerns.

“This will send a message to GMHC that we mean business,” said Joseph Sellman, a GMHC CAB member, who was smiling ear to ear after the resolution was passed.

Posted on June 19, 2009 at 2:06 am