Frank Oldham, Jr. is the former CEO of NAPWA, which closed in bankruptcy earlier this year. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)
A newly created national coalition called Pozitively Healthy will advocate for people with HIV and AIDS following the closing in February of the 30-year-old National Association of People With AIDS (NAPWA), according to the coalition’s organizers.
In a May 10 statement, organizers said the new coalition will be an arm of the Washington, D.C.-based national AIDS group HealthHIV, which will manage the coalition’s finances and infrastructure.
“Pozitively Healthy’s mission is to ensure the strong independent voice of the 1.2 million people living with HIV/AIDS in the United States,” the statement says.
It says the coalition will advocate for “access to quality health care and the most impactful prevention, care and treatment services in this era of health reform implementation.”
The statement says organizations, including the Names Project Foundation associated with the national AIDS Quilt, and AIDS-related publications will be a part of the coalition in addition to individuals.
“Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the Pozitively Healthy coalition will develop and drive an advocacy and education agenda to address issues impacting People Living With HIV/AIDS, with special attention to African-American MSM [men who have sex with men], women, and transgender populations,” the statement says.
Brian Hujdich, executive director of HealthHIV, said HealthHIV and organizers of Pozitively Healthy are inviting AIDS activists and their supporters from throughout the country to apply for membership on a national steering committee created to set the coalition’s agenda and mission.
He said organizers are also inviting activists and others supportive of the coalition’s efforts to become members of the coalition. He said membership is free. Information about Pozitively Healthy and a sign-up form to become a member is available at HealthHIV.org.
Five members of the steering committee, which had 16 members as of early this week, are former officials at NAPWA, including NAPWA’s former executive director and CEO Frank Oldham.
Veteran Washington State AIDS activist Judi Billings, a former NAPWA board chair, has been named co-chair of the Pozitively Healthy steering committee.
David Waggoner, founder and publisher of the Albany, N.Y.-based national AIDS magazine A&U, has been named as the other co-chair.
The prominent role being played by former NAPWA officials and staffers prompted AIDS activists and bloggers Michael Petrelis of San Francisco and Greg Milward of Wisconsin to raise concern, saying events leading up to NAPWA’s financial collapse and bankruptcy took place under their watch.
With creditors owed more than $750,000, NAPWA filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy at the time it announced it was shutting its doors permanently in February.
Oldham announced his resignation from his post as NAPWA’s executive director and CEO in October and left the organization in November before news of the impending bankruptcy surfaced. A document filed with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Maryland lists Oldham as owing NAPWA more than $80,000 in “accounts payable.”
Oldham and all other former officials at NAPWA have declined to comment on any of the details that surfaced in the public records associated with the bankruptcy filing.
Stephen Bailous, NAPWA’s former deputy executive director and a current member of Pozitively Healthy’s steering committee, told the Blade shortly after the bankruptcy filing that NAPWA’s financial problems stemmed from the organization’s difficulty in raising funds during the downturn in the economy, which he said led to a mounting debt.
Hujdich of HealthHIV told the Blade that Oldham, Billings and the other former NAPWA officials were named to the Pozitively Healthy steering committee because of their years of experience in AIDS-related matters and their distinguished record of advocacy for people with AIDS.
He said that similar to all members of the steering committee, the former NAPWA officials’ role in the coalition would be limited to policy and advocacy matters.
“We’re handling the management of it so that we’ll handle everything financial and any infrastructure with regards to how to help support it,” Hujdich said.
“As it relates to the way NAPWA was managed, none of the former NAPWA board or staff members that are part of the coalition are connected in any way to the running of the coalition financially,” he said. “And so they have no role in anything fiscal.”
According to Hujdich, Pozitively Healthy will operate as an all-volunteer entity, with a membership and most steering committee members located throughout the country.
Added Hujdich, “There shouldn’t be an issue about their involvement. And all the more reason — not just those who were involved with NAPWA but others who are long committed to HIV advocacy — why wouldn’t we want to include their voice and give them an opportunity to do this?”
Just three days after the announcement of the creation of Pozitively Healthy, Oldham testified on behalf of the new coalition at a D.C. City Council hearing on Tuesday.
The hearing, before the Council’s Committee on Health, reviewed the city’s implementation of President Obama’s healthcare reform program related to insurance exchanges created to enable consumers to select affordable health insurance policies.