No Central Florida HIV organizations receive CDC grants for 2015

By : Jamie Hyman
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The same week it was announced that Orange County’s new HIV cases are up 47 percent from last year, the Centers for Disease Control announced no Central Florida HIV organizations will receive CDC grants this year.

The CDC announced their grant recipients June 30 and just three Florida organizations received funds: Empower “U”, Inc. Community Health Center in Miami; Latinos Salud, Inc. in Miami Beach and Metropolitan Charities, Inc. in St. Petersburg.

Of the greater Orlando organizations, Hope and Help of Central Florida, Inc. was hit hard by the lack of grant funding. For the past five years, the CDC awarded Hope and Help grants ranging from $240,127 to $335,748. Miracle of Love, an Orlando-based multicultural HIV/AIDS care, education and prevention organization, is also reeling from the lack of funding. On average, Miracle of Love had received $300,000 a year from the CDC.

Lisa Barr, Hope and Help’s executive director, speculates the CDC is changing their focus, noting that all of the funded organizations are clinics.

“They said we qualified but we’re not the top qualifier,” Barr says. “If there’s additional funding we may be eligible for it at a later time.”

The CDC’s selections are also confusing to local organizations because it was indicated that organizations shown to collaborate would have the best chance.

Russell Walker, currently Hope and Help’s events manager, was acting director of the LGBT Center of Central Florida when the grant application was submitted. He says Hope and Help, The Center, and Orange Blossom Family Health submitted a collaborative application.

Now, looking at the awardees, Walker wants to know why the grants were distributed to only three standalone organizations.

“We’re confused,” Walker says. “If collaboration was [the CDC’s] main goal, how is it [the grants went to] one agency in one area?”

Barr says it was one of the first times Hope and Help teamed up with other organizations this way.

“We really thought we had a strong chance of winning [the grant],” she says. “It doesn’t make a lot of sense to us.”

Nicola Norton is executive director of Miracle of Love.

“My hope is that the CDC will recognize the grave error [in not funding Central Florida organizations],” Norton says, noting that the grant distribution seemed to be geographically skewed.

“When you look at the matrix as to who the CDC funded, only 25 percent of the Southern states got funded,” she says. “The other 75 percent were northern areas. With Florida being number one in the nation [for new HIV cases], you would have thought there would be more funding in this area but it just didn’t happen. I don’t know what’s going on.”

Terry DeCarlo, current executive director of The Center, is also bewildered as to how the CDC made this year’s funding decisions.

“It’s very hard to wrap my head around how the CDC came to that decision, not to fund anyone in Central Florida,” DeCarlo says, citing new data from the Florida Department of Health that shows the number of new HIV cases in Orange County for the first part of 2015 are up 47 percent, compared to the same time period from 2014. That’s a total of 231 people diagnosed HIV positive from January through April of 2015. Same time period last year, 157 people were diagnosed HIV positive. Orange County has the fourth largest number of HIV/AIDS cases in the state, with 8,195.

The CDC would not comment on why any individual organization wasn’t funded, saying they don’t address confidential details of any application. In an email to Watermark, CDC spokeswoman Donni Smalls listed two “types of things that may have influenced an applicant’s score”:

  • If a grantee didn’t meet the program requirements outlined in the announcement or didn’t demonstrate the necessary capacity to accomplish what they proposed in their proposal, they would not have scored as well as someone who did.
  • Alternatively, it’s possible that a grantee did not score well on the recipient capability assessment, which is an assessment by CDC’s Procurement and Grants Office to ensure that an organization has the financial capacity to manage the funding they would receive.

“We had to make a number of tough choices because CDC’s funding is limited, and we received many outstanding applications,” Smalls says. “We are excited to work with the 90 organizations [nationwide] that were funded over the next five years as they deliver effective HIV prevention strategies to those in greatest need.”

The Center isn’t directly affected by the lack of funding because they had not received the CDC grant in the past. They were going to use the funds to place an HIV case manager in-house, using an existing case manager from Hope and Help or from Miracle of Love, another local HIV organization that has received CDC funding in the past but not this year.

“We’ll have to find a way to fund that position,” DeCarlo says, adding that right now when someone tests positive for HIV they have to send that person to another organization to get needed case management care such as arranging for doctor appointments, ensuring the client’s insurance is in line and “making sure the person has everything they need to move on.”

“It would be so much easier to do [testing and case management] as a one stop shop,” DeCarlo says. “[Not being funded] doesn’t affect our bottom line, our budget at all. [The in-house case manager] would have been an extra and something new offered here at The Center.”

That’s not the case for Hope and Help and Miracle of Love.

Norton says Miracle of Love has had to lay off a testing/educator, and other employees will be taking pay cuts. They had planned to expand testing into Seminole County.

“No one is testing out there now,” says Norton. “A whole county is not receiving prevention services.”

Barr says Hope and Help is currently regrouping and trying to figure out their next move.

“[Not being funded] impacts employees and their ability to serve our clients,” Barr says. “Hardest hit is our prevention team and support groups.”

She says they’re “seeking other funding opportunities as quickly as we can,” noting that grant applications are a slow process and they’re hoping to find some community support in the form of volunteers to make up for staffing hits and money donations. Specifically, Hope and Help’s mobile unit is no longer functional and they need a new one donated or “at a reasonable price.”

Walker says they’re seeking out alternate grants and meeting with corporate clients to “see about that kind of funding.”

He says in the meantime they’re focusing on their fundraising events such as Headdress Ball, which is set for October.

Barr says they are also attempting to move their outreach office from downtown on Colonial Drive to the more affordable Orange Blossom Trail. If they’re able to successfully relocate – Barr says there’s a city ordinance blocking them they’re trying to work around – the new office would be located across from Parliament House.

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