‘People need Howard Brown’

By HermineBloom

In 1986, 24-year-old Anthony Dingman tested HIV positive. But it wasn’t until 2002 that his T–cell count started to drop, which caused him to develop a number of health problems, such as an intestinal infection, MRSA infection and bacterial pneumonia. He said his medical insurance ran out around that time and his partner passed away from AIDS-related complications. With no insurance, he turned to the Howard Brown Health Center, 4025 N. Sheridan Road, and qualified for disability Medicaid. Since then, Dingman, now 48, has been a loyal patient of Howard Brown.

“If you’ve got an impaired immune system—an immune system that’s so damaged because your T–cells have dropped throughout the years—you’re used to taking on these health challenges,” Dingman said. “If you have a good physician and a good team of people [who] can treat you, you can bounce back and that’s what I do. I go in, get my treatment and I’m able to work.”

But between 2006 and March, 2010, executives at Howard Brown—one of the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer organizations—mishandled more than $3 million in grant moneys used to fund the center’s research division, the Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study, or MACS, explained current Howard Brown CEO Jamal Edwards. The lives of 36,000 adults and youth who are treated through Howard Brown are in jeopardy if the center fails to stay open.

In a news conference held at Howard Brown on Nov. 4, the investigation first launched by the National Institutes of Health was handed over to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Howard Brown decided Northwestern University should replace it as the lead agent for the study, transferred $539,000 to the universityand continue the project. Now, Howard Brown is looking to fill that $500,000 in 50 days to stabilize the organization and account for the loss. As of Nov. 10, it has reached 20 percent of its goal because of donations.

In a Nov. 4 press release, the organization projected that more than 6,000 individuals will lose access to primary medical care, 5,000 LGBTQ teens won’t have services, the Lesbian Community Care Project will shut down and more than 20 national research studies and clinical trials will be threatened if Howard Brown is forced to close.

Edwards, who was appointed after the aforementioned executives were dismissed in June, said the atmosphere at the center is optimistic.

“There’s no alternative that’s going to give people what they need because what the people need is Howard Brown Health Center,” Edwards said. “There are always contingency plans, but our goal is to raise the money and I’m confident we’re going to do that.”

If the goal isn’t met, however, executives will take salary hits, according to Chuck Benya, vice president and chief development officer at Howard Brown, who began working at the organization five weeks ago. But deep community support will be the defining factor, as the center has served to save lives for more than three decades.

“The physicians at Howard Brown see it all,” Dingman said. “They know what’s happening in the HIV and AIDS community, and the minute you walk in they recognize it. They deal with it day after day after day. They’re extremely thorough and they always find out what is happening almost immediately. That’s not my experience at other doctors.”

Having tried the Ruth M. Rothstein CORE Center, 2020 W. Harrison St., in the Illinois Medical District, Dingman wasn’t as impressed by the quality of the treatment, nor the staff at the CORE Center, he said.

“I can’t imagine having to wait for bus and train connections in the cold, blowing snow to go all the way to the CORE Center for breathing treatments I need on a regular basis,” said Dingman, who currently lives within a mile of Howard Brown.

By Dingman’s estimation, he’s healthy about 30 or 40 weeks out of the year, which leaves 16 weeks when he’s bedridden with a serious illness.

“I’ve experienced HIV stigma at work, and I’ve gotten [into] trouble for having to call in sick last minute [because] they don’t believe me,” Dingman said.

One morning he woke up to find his face paralyzed, he said. His primary doctor at Howard Brown asked if she could look in his ear, which is when she discovered he had shingles—a condition normally not found in the ear canal.

When an outbreak of spinal meningitis occurred in the community, Howard Brown tested all of its patients for the infection, he said, regardless of whether or not they displayed symptoms.

“Where other doctors might be guessing, say there’s an outbreak of a certain STD in the community, [Howard Brown] will test for that,” Dingman said.

The organization’s specialization in treating HIV and AIDS is unparalleled because MACS research provides hope for future patients, and current patients receive care that’s rooted in the latest discoveries about the illness.

Despite the dire financial situation, MACS currently has approximately 260 participants, said MACS project coordinator Kate Lindsay.

“We do blood work, physical exams, interviews, computer questionnaires,” said Lindsay, who has held her position for two and a half years. “Right now, we’re trying to keep business as usual as best as we can with everything that’s going on. We still have data to collect and participants to see. A lot of them rely on the MACS for their lab results because a number of them don’t have health insurance and don’t have access to care elsewhere.”

The research affects people’s health on a day-to-day level, Lindsay said. From 2003 to 2005, she ran a study called the Context of HIV Infection—which was Centers for Disease Control sponsored—while working out of the Lakeview Specialty Clinic, although she was contracted through Howard Brown. After returning to Northwestern University to finish her degree, she said her goal was to work for Howard Brown.

“The culture there is such an open and compassionate environment to work in,” Lindsay said. “I was always waiting for that opportunity to come back.”

Part of the reason she didn’t pursue academia was because she perceives the disconnect between the research and the subject at an institution.

“I make sure I always have the person in mind at Howard Brown,” Lindsay said. “I see patients and participants three days a week. I’m the first face they see, and I go through the initial process with them before I bring in other staff members.”

Like new staff members who were prepared to take on such a challenge, Lindsay thinks reaching out to the community will ultimately save the health center.

“There are businesses that want to be involved—even bars throughout the city—donors of all different capacities want to do things for us,” Benya said. “They understand the impact we’ve had on the community as a whole. They understand they are a part of the continuum.”

To donate to Howard Brown’s Lifeline appeal, visit HowardBrown.org/Give, or call (773) 388-1600.