Atlanta hires first-ever chief health officer to battle HIV

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms hired a public health expert with local ties to bolster the city’s efforts at fighting an HIV epidemic. 

Dr. Angelica Geter Fugerson will serve as the city’s first-ever chief health officer. 

“Dr. Fugerson is uniquely qualified to lead our city’s efforts on improving the overall health and well-being of Atlantans,” Bottoms said in a press release. “Her experience and expertise tackling public health issues — including in-depth research on HIV/AIDS — will be invaluable as we continue to build healthier, thriving communities in Atlanta.” 

Fugerson (photo) was an adjunct professor of public health at Morehouse College and adjunct instructor at the Morehouse School of Medicine. She spent three years as a research fellow at the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention before leaving to take on this new role with the City of Atlanta, according to LinkedIn. Her research has focused on HIV/AIDS, public health services and equity and health disparities in the South, according to the press release.

Fugerson got her masters in behavior science and health education from Emory University and her doctorate in public health from the University of Kentucky.

One of Fugerson’s primary goals as chief health officer will be to build coalitions across the city to reduce new HIV transmissions and other chronic illnesses affecting the city, according to the press release. She will also advise the mayor and serve as a bridge between stakeholders including Fulton and DeKalb Counties, local hospitals and community health organizations. 

A city spokesperson did not respond to Project Q's request for an interview with Fugerson.

Bottoms’ announcement meets a campaign pledge she made during a mayoral candidate forum in August 2017. She also made the pledge in an interview with Project Q Atlanta. 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.”

Bottoms reiterated her plan to hire a chief health officer in her State of the City address in March. Fugerson's appointment is effective immediately.

Fugerson’s appointment comes as the city endures a crisis in its federally-funded HIV housing program. The city has some $40.1 million in unspent funds for the HOPWA program, according to the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development. The city contends the amount is actually $31.6 million.

Bottoms proposed a restructuring of the program on July 18, which needs approval from HUD, Atlanta City Council and the non-profit Partners for Home. That non-profit would take over HOPWA grant management in fiscal year 2020. Partners for Home is also coordinating a Housing Relocation Team to find housing for HOPWA clients who face eviction. 

The city is also planning to distribute $1.5 million in emergency aid to eight HOPWA entities, but a city spokesperson did not say when that would occur.

Bottoms included $100,000 in the 2018 city budget to fight HIV, which was used to hire two part-time nurses to provide PrEP services in the Fulton Board of Health’s mobile HIV testing clinics, as well as provide PrEP education and support to primary care providers, Grady Health clinics and hospitals.

Bottoms included $250,000 in the 2019 city budget to tackle the epidemic. The Elton John AIDS Foundation contributed another $250,000, making good on a pledge to match whatever HIV funds the city included. 

Atlanta has the third-highest rate of new HIV infections of any city in the U.S., according to the Atlanta-based CDC.

Photo courtesy Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms' office