Atlanta names first-ever fellow to tackle HIV epidemic

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The City of Atlanta brought on a public health expert for a one-year fellowship to create a strategic plan to address the HIV epidemic.

Dr. Karterria Finkley started as the city’s first-ever HIV executive fellow in February. She has more than 10 years of public health service, including work with the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the DeKalb Board of Health, the Atlanta VA Medical Center and UNICEF.

Finkley told Project Q Atlanta that her first goal is helping Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms strengthen the city’s partnerships in the fight against HIV.

“I’m going to advise Mayor Bottoms on how we can best connect all of our stakeholders and expand our partnerships, and also put a strategic plan in place,” she said. “We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, we’re trying to explore how we can make our efforts more collaborative.”

After two months on the job, Finkley said she’s learned from stakeholders that keys to success are fighting the stigma around HIV and changing the way people talk about it.

“We also want to help expand our PrEP and testing access by mobilizing and leveraging the resources we have already,” she said. “And increasing our coordinated responses and communications to the public.”

In metro Atlanta, two-thirds of people with HIV are Black and the city’s efforts will focus on changing that, according to Finkley. HIV rates in the region are the second-highest in the country behind Miami, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.

The mayor welcomed Finkley to her administration after a nationwide search, Bottoms said.

“The HIV/AIDS epidemic has long plagued the people of Atlanta and disproportionally affects people of color and members of the LGBTQ community,” the mayor said in a prepared statement.

Finkley’s addition is the result of the city’s partnership with FUSE Corps, a non-profit that places executive fellows with municipalities to work on a range of issues, including healthcare.

“I sincerely thank the team at FUSE Corps for their generous support on this effort,” Bottoms said.

Finkley is also working with the city’s long-troubled housing program for low-income people with HIV. The HOPWA program is plagued by late reimbursements to HIV service providers, miscommunication and turnover in the city department in charge of the process.

“They are working on making consistent and transparent communications with realistic timelines to our partners,” Finkley said. “We’re definitely striving to be as accountable and transparent as possible while also moving our programs forward.”

Bottoms appointed Deborah Lonon to lead the department in charge of managing the city’s federal grants, including HOPWA, in November. The city has declined to make Lonon available for an interview.

Angelica Fugerson was named the city’s first chief health officer in 2019. (Photo courtesy City of Atlanta)

Atlanta’s chief health officer steps down

In 2019, Bottoms hired the city’s first chief health officer to help combat HIV. But Dr. Angelica Fugerson left the position in January and is now chief strategy officer for the Atlanta-based Black Women’s Health Imperative, according to her LinkedIn profile.

The position remains vacant and it’s unclear when it will be filled. Bottoms pledged to hire a chief health officer during her 2017 run for mayor. She said at the time that although Fulton County has a public health director, HIV “impacts the entire city” and the county “has dropped the ball in terms of our HIV rates and our prevention rates and our education rates.”

Finkley will work with the new chief health officer once they’re hired, according to Malik Brown, the city’s LGBTQ affairs director.

“They’re in the process of identifying another chief health officer and we definitely anticipate collaboration between them,” Brown told Project Q.

This story is made possible by Google News Initiative’s Journalism Emergency Relief Fund.

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