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Large Boston AIDS Groups To Partner

Two of Boston’s largest AIDS organizations will be joining forces in a strategic partnership that both nonprofits say will bring better care for New England’s growing population of those suffering from the HIV/AIDS virus.

The board of directors of Fenway Health and AIDS Action Committee (AAC) voted yesterday to enter the partnership, which will exist under one corporate structure. According to a press release announcing the partnership, it will allow for a more efficient delivery of a broader array of services for patients and clients, and enhance both nonprofit’s disease prevention and public policy advocacy work.

“I applaud the members of Fenway and AIDS Action’s Boards of Directors for being proactive and forward-thinking,” said Rebecca Haag, president and CEO of AIDS Action Committee. “Partnerships like this represent the future of HIV/AIDS service and care delivery and the evolving relationship between Fenway Health and AAC will likely serve as a model for other organizations in New England and across the country.”

Haag cited the partnership as an example of how the nation’s health care system will need to operate under the provisions of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, saying that health care organizations will require “streamlined delivery of health care services in tight coordination with wellness and prevention programs” in order to operate efficiently.

The ultimate goal of the partnership is to integrate and expand services to those who have HIV/AIDS, and inform those who don’t yet know they have the virus.

Haag said that the organization met with several different potential partners during the nearly two-year long process, but ultimately chose Fenway Health because they “clicked” after their first meeting last summer.

“We had a shared set of values,” she said, noting both organization’s commitment to both the homeless and the LGBT community.

The terms of the partnership state that both Fenway Health and AAC will continue to retain their 501(c)(3) statuses in addition to their names and brand identities. Fenway’s Board of Directors will assume fiduciary responsibility and governance of AIDS Action, and an advisory council will be formed to help support the work of AAC. Both Haag and Stephen L. Boswell, MD, Fenway Health’s president and CEO, will remain in their respective positions.

“Partnering with AIDS Action will allow Fenway to reach a more diverse group of people living with HIV/AIDS, expanding our practice to provide care for people from new neighborhoods, cities and towns,” explained Dr. Boswell, who indicated that discussions regarding a partnership with AAC had been ongoing for a couple of years, but the talks really escalated in the last 9-12 months.

The partnership owes a lot of thanks to the Catalyst Fund, a five-year project created by the Nonprofit Finance Fund to assist nonprofits with collaborations and mergers in Boston. Peter Kramer, the manager of the fund, said that AAC came to them around the end of 2012 for technical assistance in the feasibility and planning process to determine which organization would be a good fit for them to form a partnership. The Fund eventually awarded AAC a $30,000 grant.

“You can’t do the regular work you’re doing along with the strategic work,” said Haag in explaining how the Catalyst Fund helped AAC. “They provided the critical extra resources we needed to make this happen.”

So far, Boswell says reaction to the partnership from donors has been very positive. “Everyone understands the environment is changing for funding for nonprofit work,” he said. “People understand that the AIDS epidemic has changed, and those changes have caused organizations like ours to change the way they think strategically.”

Haag has seen a similar positive reaction from people around her organization. “There was literally not one piece of negative feedback,” she said. “People think it is a smart strategic move.”

According to the most recent data from Massachusetts Department of Health, there are an estimated 27,000 to 29,000 people that are living with HIV/AIDS in the state, and as many as one in five don’t know they are infected. AAC was founded in 1986 and, according to their most recent financial statements, bring in nearly $13.5 million annually. They were founded to stop the AIDS epidemic and related health inequities by eliminating new infections, maximizing healthier outcomes of those infected and at risk, and attacking the root causes of HIV/AIDS.

Fenway Health was formed in 1971 and brings in an even larger amount of revenue – nearly $43.5 million annually. Their stated mission is to enhance the wellbeing of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community and all people in the community and beyond through access to the highest quality health care, education, research and advocacy.

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