White Coat Notes

AIDS Action, Fenway Health forge new partnership

Two of Boston’s landmark AIDS organization’s are joining forces, announcing Thursday a “strategic partnership” between Fenway Health and AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts that leaders say will improve care at a time when people are living longer with the virus, while bolstering the stability of services amid shrinking federal and state funding.

“Our infrastructure is at a breaking point,” said Rebecca Haag, AIDS Action’s president and chief executive.

In the last 10 years, state funding for AIDS services has been cut by 38 percent, Haag said, “but the number of people living in Massachusetts with HIV has increased by 44 percent.”

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Under the new partnership, approved by the boards of both organizations, Fenway Health and AIDS Action will unite to become one corporate structure but each will retain its nonprofit status, name, and mission. Fenway’s board will assume the financial responsibilities for the new entity, while board members from AIDS Action will assume an advisory role.

Haag will remain as chief executive of AIDS Action, while Dr. Stephen Boswell Fenway’s president and chief executive, will be in charge of the newly merged organization.

Boswell said patients will likely not see any immediate changes, but will ultimately benefit because the new organization will be able to offer streamlined services by combining forces. The organizations, for instance, will save money by sharing information technology services, administrative functions, and even the same cleaning services.

Sweeping changes in the health care field will be coming in the next year as the federal health care overhaul encourages organizations to merge for more coordinated services and reduced costs. Boswell said the partnership between Fenway Health and AIDS Action can be an example for others.

“Our boards believe this is a leading effort to show how other major, urban areas in the country can deal with these issues that are also affecting them,” Boswell said.

The arrangement is, in a sense, a homecoming for AIDS Action, born 30 years ago in the basement of Fenway Health’s former Haviland Street building during the crucible of the AIDS epidemic.

Larry Kessler, then a Fenway Health board member and one of the few with experience setting up nonprofit organizations, was asked to establish a group that could help people infected with what was, at the time, a mysterious and frightening new disease.

“I thought it would be a one-year deal, then thought in three years we won’t need it anymore, but the need for AIDS Action is still there,” said Kessler, who went on to lead AIDS Action for 25 years, and is now director of the Boston Living Center another nonprofit that serves people with HIV and AIDS.

Kessler said the new partnership makes sense.

“The whole system of health care is evolving and about to make some dramatic change,” Kessler said. “By joining forces, they will be able to get the most efficiency out of every dollar, as well as improve communication with each other and the people they serve.”

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