Local leaders pleased with choice for AIDS policy chief

Posted on 05 Mar 2009 at 7:05pm
By Tammye Nash Senior Editor

President Obama names openly gay man to lead Office of National AIDS policy; Bush had left position vacant for last 2 years

Some local AIDS service providers this week said they are pleased that President Obama has already appointed someone to lead his Office of National AIDS Policy. And although several said they were not very familiar with the new appointee, they believe he was a good choice.

The White House announced Feb. 26 that Jeffrey S. Crowley would lead the office tasked with coordinating U.S. government efforts to reduce HIV infection in the United States and leading treatment of Americans with HIV/AIDS.

Crowley, who is openly gay, holds a master’s degree in public health from Johns Hopkins University and has worked since 2000 as senior research scholar at Georgetown University’s health policy institute. He previously worked at the National Association of People with AIDS, and his areas of expertise include Medicaid policy.

"His credentials are impressive," said Don Maison, executive director of AIDS Services of Dallas, who said that he knows little about Crowley except what he has heard from others in the AIDS services community since Obama announced Crowley’s appointment last week.

"On paper he looks very good, and I certainly have heard nothing negative about him," Maison said. "Nancy Bernstine, who is the executive director of the National AIDS Housing Coalition, has worked with him, and she seems to think highly of him."

For Bret Camp, associate executive director of health and medical services with the Resource Center of Dallas, said it is "exciting that we now have an openly gay man with significant knowledge and experience with HIV in this position."

Camp said Crowley is well known to the AIDS and HIV community and is very supportive of improved access to care for all people, "especially people with HIV. We now have leadership in the president’s office that is giving us renewed hope for caring for people with HIV and AIDS."

Raeline Nobles, executive director of AIDS Arms Inc. in Dallas, said she is somewhat familiar with Crowley through his work at Georgetown and from having read "some of his statements and congressional reports."

"I do think he is the right person, just because of where we see health care moving, toward national health care. I do think Crowley will play a big role in that as the Ryan White CARE Act sunsets over the next few years," Nobles said. "He is very familiar with it and how large reimbursements are made. He understands the systems, and he will be able to develop a responsive national health care system."

Nobles said that Crowley’s experience with HIV and AIDS and his previous work in the Peace Corps has given him a clear picture of how chronic disease can devastate people not only physically, but financially and emotionally and mentally, too.

"He can see the integration of psychosocial services so people can stand up and live their lives instead of just sitting in a doctor’s office popping pills," said Nobles. "His experience has allowed him to envision the whole person."

Nobles’ agency is one of many locally and across the country that have lost significant federal funding as, under the Bush administration, federal dollars have been reallocated almost entirely to strictly medical services. That shift has left services such as hot meals and nutrition programs, transportation programs, counseling programs and case management services severely underfunded.

Many of those programs, including at local agencies, have had to cut back drastically and some have been ended completely.

But even though the shift in focus may slow somewhat under the Obama administration, Nobles said this week she doesn’t expect it to reverse course.

"Our HIV system of care [under the Ryan White act] is one of the most effective anywhere. Instead of hacking Ryan White to pieces, why not recreate it for other disease states? I think Obama has seen that, and I think Jeffrey Crowley has seen it. But I also think in three to five years it will be a different world, and Ryan White is not going to be part of that world," Nobles said. "I wish Mr. Obama would announce lots of social workers and psychologists being added to the federal programs. That would balance things out. But the medical lobby is extremely strong, and there’s not enough on the other side to balance that voice. But we won’t give up.

"Unfortunately," she continued, "the focus on medical care only is the way it’s going to be. Crowley can potentially keep the psychosocial side of things more open and available for a while, but I think the train has left the station. I don’t like it. I think it’s a mistake. But the train is the train, and it’s going to keep chugging down the track."

Still, all three local agency heads said they see it as a positive sign that President Obama has so quickly filled a position that President Bush left vacant for the last two years.

"He [Obama] is talking about AIDS, and that’s an important thing," Camp said. "That’s something we didn’t see before [under the Bush administration]. I will reserve my opinion on how [Obama's] doing until we are at least a little past the talking stage and there is some real action going on. But I can’t imagine it won’t be good. Just the fact that AIDS is actually being said in the White House is very promising."

Maison agreed: "In terms of a bully pulpit, [Crowley's appointment] is very important. I don’t think HIV and AIDS were very important to the former president.

"You can look at his appointments and see that ideology was far more important to him than good policy. But Obama really does care about having a national policy and plan to deal with the AIDS epidemic. That is a very big improvement."

E-mail nash@dallasvoice.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 6, 2009.

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