Across the board, the Telluride AIDS Benefit (TAB)’s Colorado-based beneficiary organizations are expressing their concern over the new political climate. Although President Trump has not made any statements specifically addressing HIV/AIDS-related policy, he has announced his desire to eliminate the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) and cut Medicaid spending. This would have a direct impact on the health and well being of many people living with HIV, as more than half of all adults with HIV in the United States are covered by Medicaid. As the providers at Western Colorado Specialty Care Clinic in Grand Junction stated, “Any changes to Medicaid expansion will severely impact our patient population.”
With the possibility of massive governmental funding and policy changes looming, TAB funds remain as vital as ever. Unlike most HIV/AIDS money that originates from government programs or many larger foundations, TAB funds are distributed to beneficiaries with “no strings attached.” Beneficiary organizations are then free to utilize these funds in any way they deem necessary, often using them to fill the gaps between what their larger funding sources provide and specific client needs.
Beyond the extraordinary medical and pharmacological care that is required to keep an individual living with HIV healthy, there remains a long list of basic needs that must be fulfilled. Underlying the ability to take medication on time, eat a healthy diet, and get proper sleep, there is a need for stability and consistency in one’s daily life. This includes access to food and medical care, and stability in one’s living situation. Instability in any of these areas can result in serious consequences to one’s health. As a result of this, TAB beneficiary organizations often use these unrestricted funds to assist with costs associated with travel, housing, and food.
TAB has been raising funds for Western Colorado AIDS Project (WestCAP) since 1994. Since then almost 100% of donated funds have gone directly to client care. The staff at WestCAP recently relayed the story of a client living in Garfield County, Colorado. This client had lost weight consistently over the last few years, was down to 90 lbs., and had a developing tumor that would require a trip to Denver for a biopsy, but he was too weak to make the trip. At a recent visit with his case manager, the client had wondered if he shouldn’t “just give up.” The client didn’t qualify for any standard assistance options such as Ryan White funds, so the case manager decided to use TAB funds. Since making that decision, WestCAP was able to assist with the client’s rent, keeping him in his home, as well as provide Ensure/Boost for nutrition, food cards, and transportation to medical appointments. As a result, the client’s weight has returned to normal, the tumor is reversing, and he has even returned to work as a home decorator in Aspen. In this case, WestCAP made use of TAB funds for all three of the major needs (travel, housing, food) and the result was that the client achieved a complete turn-around of his health.
TAB funds were also used to help a client from another beneficiary organization, Children’s Hospital Immunodeficiency Program (CHIP), find a new home after nearly 8 months of living at Children’s Hospital in Denver. Despite the complicated array of issues associated with finding him the right living situation, the staff persevered and was ultimately able to use TAB funds to assist with his housing deposit and even provide a small stipend for furniture. He is now living on his own and reportedly healthier than he has been in years.
In a state like Colorado where clients may live hours away from medical providers, assistance with travel costs can be life saving. All four Colorado based TAB beneficiary organizations reported using TAB funds to help clients get to medical, advocacy and social service appointments.
Despite the fact that TAB makes up only a percentage of the beneficiary organizations’ overall budgets, it is a vital percentage because it allows the providers to fill in the gaps where larger funding streams fall short. Without these unrestricted funds, many of these clients would slip through the cracks.
In the midst of a changing political and social landscape, the Telluride AIDS Benefit intends to work as hard, if not harder, in continuing to raise awareness and funds to fight the epidemic on the front lines.
-Words by Sarah Gluckstern