Five years ago, the AIDS Resource Center (ARC Ohio) Ohio took what its leader calls “an extraordinary leap.”
This year, it’ll take another step that “is every bit as much a big leap.” If not bigger.
In 2011, the Columbus AIDS Task Force, Ohio AIDS Coalition, and AIDS Resource Center Ohio merged, creating a streamlined organization to serve HIV and AIDS patients across Ohio. “The most sophisticated thing we did was case management,” explained Bill Hardy, the organization’s president and CEO. But the organization also expanded its services, opening medical centers and pharmacies in Columbus and Dayton.
On the day of the merger, ARC Ohio had an annual budget of $6 million and a staff of 70, Hardy said. With growth fueled by opening medical centers and pharmacies in Dayton and Columbus, ARC Ohio’s budget is now $44 million, with a staff of 235. Since opening the centers, some 1,732 patients have been served and more than 5,000 patients treated for HIV.
“It was absolutely transformational for us,” Hardy said, “and this will be transformational for us again.”
“In April, we will adopt a new expanded mission,” Hardy said. In addition to maintaining its current and historic services, ARC Ohio will provide primary care to the LGBTQ community, as well as anyone else needing care. At the same time, the organization will seek approval as a federal community health center. Completing the highly competitive process will mean people who are not HIV-positive can receive care in ARC Ohio’s facilities, and the organization can qualify for higher reimbursement rates and become eligible for federal grant funding.
“We want to be the gateway to good health for those who are at risk and need patient-centered care, whether they’re HIV-positive or not,” Hardy said. He pointed to research that shows reducing new HIV infections and increasing the number of individuals with undetectable viral loads are best achieved while meeting the broader healthcare needs of highest-risk populations. By expanding the types of care provided, Hardy believes the overall health of high-risk people will greatly improve.
ARC Ohio’s continuing evolution has impressed staff at The Columbus Foundation, so much so that it named the organization as one of their “5 Nonprofits to Watch” in 2016.
“What’s exciting is watching this organization evolve and be progressive as the disease has been increasingly managed. They know the treatment of HIV and AIDs is important and is one subset of the LGBTQ community, and others, but they’re evolving and now they’re going to be about LGBTQ health,” said Lisa S. Courtice, Ph.D., the Foundation’s executive vice president. “Today, she said, they are thriving.”
Not only will the organization change how it operates in 2016, it will change its name. Officials are mum on what that name will be, however, other than to say it will not include the word “AIDS” because it still carries a negative connotation.
Douglas F. Kridler, president and CEO of the Columbus Foundation, noted the critical role ARC Ohio plays in helping to curb the spread of HIV and other diseases for drug users. “They’ve stepped up and are the city’s provider of needles for people who are using drugs” so diseases aren’t spread. “It’s a timely response to a critical need. They have experience doing it because they did it when AIDS was rampant and needles were really a way that people contracted the disease.”
Hardy said being recognized by The Columbus Foundation is significant for his organization.
“For much of the public, the perception is that HIV is an issue that was of importance a decade or two ago. The truth of the matter is more people than ever are living with HIV,” Hardy said. “This recognition will help folks understand that there’s still a real issue and there are real solutions, which is to get people into care.”