Fulton dishes out $2 million to boost HIV prevention efforts

The Fulton County Commission dished out more than $2 million in grants to boost HIV prevention and education efforts in the county, which is a hotspot for the HIV epidemic. 

The nearly $2.04 million in grants – funded by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and passed through to agencies by county health officials – were awarded to 14 health agencies. Commissioners approved the grants Wednesday as part of the county's High Impact HIV Prevention Program.

The grants help programs that boost HIV prevention and education efforts, increase HIV testing and the number of people who know their status, and improve links to prevention and care services for people who test positive.

The recipients include:

  • Rollins School of Public Health at Emory, $224,927
  • Grady Memorial Hospital, $223,464
  • Southside Medical Center, $225,000
  • AIDS Research Consortium of Atlanta, $74,951
  • ANIZ, $150,000
  • Center for Black Women's Wellness, $83,148
  • Empowerment Resource Center, $150,000
  • AID Atlanta, $83,145
  • Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition, $111,650
  • Center for Pan Asian Community Services, $150,000
  • Saint Joseph Mercy Care Services, $112,501
  • NAESM, $150,000
  • Positive Impact Health Center, $150,000
  • Someone Cares of Atlanta, $150,000

The grants come as Fulton health officials continue to recover from a 2015 scandal in which HIV grants from the CDC were mismanaged so poorly that it squandered millions in funds. The county's then health director, Patrice Harris, blocked efforts to fix the problems and was eventually pushed out.

Since, the county has revamped its administration of HIV grants and launched an ambitious effort to eradicate HIV in Fulton. 

But the Fulton health officials still stumbled in doling out the grants this year. Several smaller HIV agencies that typically received funding from the grants complained that county health officials failed to communicate with them during the application process, leading to fears that they wouldn't receive any funding. Via the AJC:

By mid-March, Zina Age still hadn’t heard back from Fulton County about her request for $200,000 in grant money to test 1,200 people for HIV. She continued the work of Aniz, Inc., the organization she runs, on the assumption that the money she had received for years would come through.

Then a list of groups to be funded was circulated. It was missing Aniz and several other local organizations that test high-risk residents and help them get care. Leaders of local HIV and AIDS-prevention organizations were up in arms.

“Of course I was panicking,” Age said. “We had been doing the work since January.”

But Fulton Health Director Kathleen Toomey (photo) – brought in to clean up the agency after Harris left – said it was a case of miscommunication. The county intended to fund the agencies all along, she told the AJC.

The county will get $8 million this year from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with about $2 million of it available for outside grants. Toomey said she always intended two rounds of funding — the first for large organizations, and a second for smaller ones. But she neglected to tell the organizations that.

When the full funding recommendations are made, Toomey said, the frustrations of the organizations’ leaders will “be turned around and we’re going to have happy campers,” she said.

“I take responsibility for the breakdown in communication,” she said. “The intentions were always good.”