Since last summer, when ACRIA released the findings of its comprehensive Research on Older Adults (ROAH), ACRIA News has been reporting on the reaction to this groundbreaking study in the AIDS service community and the New York City government. Finally, in June, the City Council approved a budget for the 2008 fiscal year that included a $1 million appropriation to fund the first-ever comprehensive citywide HIV prevention and health literacy program focused specifically on older adults.
Under the plan approved by the City Council, the funding will be used to develop, among other initiatives, a curriculum tailored to older adults; provide training at senior centers and other senior services sites; and create prevention and HIV education publications targeted to older adults.
This ambitious program will be managed by ACRIA, and specific services will be developed and provided by a coalition of partners that designed the original initiative. Besides ACRIA, the coalition includes the Council of Senior Centers and Services (CSCS), Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC), the Jamaica Service Program for Older Adults (JSPOA), and Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE).
The program will be conducted in neighborhoods where the incidence of HIV is high, and services will be provided in dozens of senior centers and other sites that serve older adults throughout the five boroughs and in each of the 51 City Council districts. In addition to those who worked on designing the original initiative, other organizations will be recruited to participate in the development and implementation of the program. An independent research group will be hired to evaluate the program, assessing what is working and what isn't, so that needed improvements and modifications can be made.
New York City is the epicenter of the HIV epidemic in North America, and has frequently pioneered HIV prevention and service programs later introduced across the country and abroad. The generous funding set aside by the City Council, along with the expertise contributed by a broad range of organizations, should enable us to develop services and approaches that can be adapted to serve the growing numbers of older adults in areas beyond the city limits.
People over 50 now represent the fastest growing group with HIV. In New York City, the HIV/AIDS epicenter in the U.S., 32% of the almost 100,000 people living with the disease are over age 50. Within a decade, it is anticipated that people over 50 will constitute more than half of the city's HIV-positive population.
Yet, as ROAH clearly demonstrated, the disheartening fact is that this population has been and continues to be largely ignored and marginalized.
The funding, which consists of $640,000 of City funds matched with a $360,000 grant from New York State, was spearheaded by Councilmember Maria del Carmen Arroyo (D-Bronx) and members of the Council Committees on the Aging and on Health. The initiative is the product of a workgroup convened by Councilmember Arroyo and others, largely in response to the findings of ROAH and the testimony of ACRIA's Executive Director Daniel Tietz and others at a joint hearing of the Council's Aging and Health Committees.
"Our research paints a stark picture of an aging population that lacks the social support most of us take for granted, and has continuing and chronic age-related illnesses compounded by HIV/AIDS," said Tietz. "The $1 million grant will go a long way in working to rectify this situation."
Tietz thanked Councilmember Arroyo for her commitment to securing the funds. "This funding would not be possible without the foresight, vision and energy of several people. Councilmember Arroyo has championed this cause from the start and ensured the City Council $1 million budget allocation for the initiative. We at ACRIA and our coalition partners are most grateful for that support."
The coalition is made up of a broad range of groups serving older New Yorkers and people with HIV. In addition to ACRIA, CSCS, GMHC, JSPOA, and SAGE, the members include Aging in America, Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies (FPWA), Griot Circle, Jewish Board of Family and Children's Services (JBFCS), Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty (MCJP), Momentum AIDS Project, and the New York Association on HIV Over Fifty (NYAHOF).
"Many still picture the face of AIDS as belonging to a white, homosexual male -- the media archetype of the 1980s," said Dr. Stephen Karpiak, ACRIA's Associate Director for Research. "But for people living with the disease in New York City and around the country, the face of HIV/AIDS is much more that of a heterosexual over the age of 50 who is a person of color and probably female."
He explained that stigma and assumptions regarding the elderly, sex, and substance use, as well as confusion about HIV symptoms and age-related illness, are factors contributing to a steady increase in new HIV diagnoses among people age 50 or above in the past five years. Moreover, as advanced medical treatments and medication allow people to live longer and healthier lives, their numbers will continue to grow. Mainstreaming the needs of the older adult population, regardless of their HIV status, is the first step toward focused primary and secondary HIV prevention.
"It is vital that the healthcare system, elected officials, policy makers, and everyone in a position to confront the HIV/AIDS pandemic understand the changing population and the complicated health needs that make up the new face of AIDS," said Tietz.
Liza Kelly-Rossini, M.S.N., M.P.A., A.N.P., has joined ACRIA as our new Clinical Trials Manager. Ms. Kelly-Rossini has an extensive medical background, having worked as a nurse practitioner and research nurse practitioner at Columbia University Medical Center, Weill Medical College of Cornell University, Rockefeller University, the Polari Group, and the Southern Westchester Infectious Disease Group. She also served as AIDS team nurse liaison and nurse practitioner at Beth Israel Medical Center, and has held a variety of nursing and related posts over the past thirty years.
Esteban Perla, our new Regulatory Affairs Coordinator, comes to ACRIA from Philadelphia's AIDS Services in Asian Communities, where he was an HIV case manager. His other experience includes teaching high school biology, serving as a teaching assistant in the General Biology Lab at Bucknell University, and working as a National Park Ranger at the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts. A native of the Philippines, Mr. Perla has also lived in Indonesia and Egypt.
Gustavo Otto brings a diverse background and valuable skills to his new job as Administrative Coordinator in ACRIA's HIV Health Literacy Program. He is a proficient English/Spanish translator with special training and expertise in medical and related translation, and has held administrative positions in private industry and has organized and operated his own business. Mr. Otto's background also includes visual merchandising, interior design for commercial spaces, and work as a licensed massage therapist.
Leslie R Klotz is Vice President of Business Development for Art + Commerce, a leading agency representing and promoting artists and image makers. She has also held top management positions at Banana Republic and Polo Ralph Lauren in New York and Creative Artists Agency in Los Angeles. Besides ACRIA, Ms. Klotz also sits on the boards of Literacy Partners and the Hamptons Film Festival.
Judith Godwin Rabkin, Ph.D., M.P.H., is a renowned HIV/AIDS researcher with a resume too extensive to briefly summarize. Currently with the New York State Psychiatric Institute, Dr. Rabkin is a Fellow of the American Psychopatholog-ical Association and the Society for Clinical Psychosocial Research, and a member of the Council of Research Scientists of the New York State Department of Mental Health and the International AIDS Society.
This article was provided by AIDS Community Research Initiative of America. It is a part of the publication ACRIA Update. Visit ACRIA's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.