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HIV Care Organizations in Memphis Come Together After Tennessee Declines Federal Funding Dollars

An HIV home test.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration
An HIV home test.

Nonprofit organizations say certain HIV-related services in Memphis are in danger of being discontinued after the state of Tennessee announced in January that it will not accept some large federal grants supporting HIV prevention efforts.

These groups and Shelby County government leaders are coming together in search of solutions to ensure their work to end the transmission of HIV isn’t interrupted.

Public health advocates have widely denounced the decision by Gov. Bill Lee’s administration to reject more than $8 million dollars in funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Tennessean newspaper reported that the state’s health commissioner, Dr. Ralph Alvarado, told lawmakers last week that Tennessee will apply $9 million of its own money towards HIV programming instead of accepting federal dollars. The commissioner did not offer specifics about what such a plan would look like.

HIV prevention and care organizations whose budgets are affected like Friends for Life say it creates an uncertain future for them.

“Our contracts end, and the funding we do have goes away May 31,” Mia Cotton, the chief programs officer for the organization, said during an online forum Wednesday.

Groups like hers and local officials have formed what’s known as the HIV Equity Coalition to garner support as they navigate ways to avoid gaps in funding.

Even small setbacks in HIV testing and prevention efforts will hurt progress in curbing spread of the disease, advocates say. The Memphis area has one of the highest rates of new cases of HIV in the country.

Molly Quinn with the nonprofit Out Memphis says, among other programs, they would have to cut a certification program that trains other organizations to conduct testing.

“That program is going away, and there’s been no information provided to OUT Memphis or any of us about how future testers will be certified,” she said.

Cotton says without this specific CDC money, Friends for Life won’t qualify for another federal pharmacy reimbursement initiative called 340B, resulting in the loss of more than $1 million in funding.

“This is critical for us,” she said. “This is what could close our doors if we can’t figure out the 340B component because that is really what we utilize.”

The coalition's partners say they are asking the CDC to consider ways to deliver the money without channeling it through the state.

They’ve proposed directly routing it to a single nonprofit that could distribute it or have the Shelby County Health Department receive it.

The organizations are also waiting to see what funding is offered in the state’s final budget.

“We are hoping that everyone votes for all of these agencies to be line items and get that funding, but there is also the fear that we will be right back in the same place next year” Cotton said.

Katie is a part-time WKNO contributor. She's always eager to hear your story ideas. You can email her at kriordan@wkno.org