20-year-old Hospice facing 30% funding cut in 2010
Kevin first tested positive for HIV in 1984, but remarkably he was able to continue working as a hairdresser until only a few years ago.
Despite surgery for a brain aneurysm, a bout with viral meningitis and severe neuropathy, Kevin said he was initially denied Social Security disability benefits.
That’s when Kevin, who asked that his surname be withheld, contacted the Legal Hospice of Texas, which provides free representation to people with HIV and other terminal illnesses. Finally, in January, Kevin won his case.
"I would’ve had to sell my condo, probably moved in with my parents, or moved into Hillcrest House [operated by AIDS Services of Dallas]," Kevin said, adding that he still has hopes of returning to work someday. "It’s very nice to have a free lawyer."
In addition to his disability benefits, Kevin said the Legal Hospice has helped him with his will, and with a dispute related to Medicaid. So, naturally, he was concerned this week when he learned that the Legal Hospice, which marks its 20th anniversary this year, is facing severe funding cuts that could force it to scale back services.
"Someone has to do it, so if it’s not the Legal Hospice, who’s going to do it with no pay?" Kevin said. "If the funding is going to be cut, I think there’s going to need to be a lot more fundraisers going on."
Roger Wedell, a longtime local gay rights activist who’s served as executive director of the Legal Hospice for the last nine years, announced this week that the organization will lose at least $140,000, or 30 percent of its current funding, in 2010. Like other legal aid programs, the hospice relies heavily on revenue from Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts, administered by the Texas Access to Justice Foundation in Austin.
The Access to Justice Foundation has notified recipients to expect a reduction of 75 percent reduction in grants next year — and perhaps complete elimination of funding.
"Every legal aid program in the state, practically across the nation, is being faced with the same reality," Wedell said. "When interest rates are 0 to 2.5 percent, it doesn’t generate enough revenue to sustain the programs that have been in existence for years. It would be dramatic even in good economic times, but when all sources of charitable dollars are diminishing, it’s a double hit."
Wedell added that it’s actually a triple hit given that unemployment is rising, meaning more people are eligible for the hospice’s services. The Legal Hospice has also faced funding cuts in recent years under the federal Ryan White program for HIV/AIDS.
"It’s the cumulative effect of all of these issues that are hitting at the same time," Wedell said.
Wedell said about 90 percent of the legal hospice’s clients are HIV-positive. The hospice, which served 812 low-income people in 13 North Texas counties last year, began in 1988 as a collaboration between the Dallas Bar Association and the Dallas Gay Alliance to meet the explosive legal needs of people dying from AIDS.
While HIV/AIDS has become a manageable disease for many, Wedell said, the hospice maintains an important role.
"We are certainly grateful for the new treatments, and those are extending lives, but they don’t work for everyone, and they apparently don’t work forever for everyone," he said.
Wedell said that for every $1 spent last year, the hospice secured a return of $1.25 for its clients.
The hospice has three full-time staff attorneys, as well as three other employees including himself. The hospice also relies on a network of about 40 community attorneys who volunteer their time to do non-emergency work and handle cases that are outside the expertise of hospice staff.
"If we can’t replace those funds, there is a very high likelihood that we would have to reduce staff and therefore reduce services," Wedell said. "Probably our approach would be to begin to triaging requests for service. Those in the most critical health situations would receive services more quickly. Those in less critical health situations would wait. Right now, we don’t’ have to do that. We’re able to respond to every qualified client within three to five days."
Fundraiser set April 16
Legal Hospice of Texas’ third annual Fashion CITED: A Style Event will feature some of the state’s top names in fashion design on April 16 at Positive Space, 1729 Irving Blvd. in Dallas. Doors open at 6 p.m., and proceeds from ticket sales and a raffle will benefit Legal Hospice of Texas. Tickets can be purchased for a $40 tax-deductible contribution. For additional information or to purchase tickets, visit www.legalhospice.org or call 214-521-6622. A limited number of tickets will be available at the door the night of the event.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 27, 2009.