SANTA CLARA COUNTY, CALIF.—Entering the room with Heaven, the 5-year old yellow Labrador Retriever, who serves as his guide dog, Karl Vidt begins an evening where he will be a part of a group that makes decisions on how to allocate more than $2 million in funds for HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, and care. The 57-year-old Vidt is a person living with HIV who chose to put his personal knowledge to work on behalf of others.
“People affected by HIV and AIDS know the most about what it is like to live with this disease,” said Vidt. “We’re in a unique position to contribute to the dialogue about priorities for services.”
Vidt joined the HIV Planning Council for Prevention and Care in 2002, after being encouraged by a friend to consider serving. He has been on the Council for 10 years and now serves as chair of the Planning and Resources Committee.
“Getting involved is a great way to shape how HIV/AIDS services are delivered in the county,” said Vidt. “If you have an interest in HIV prevention and care, a willingness to look at problems, and enjoy working collaboratively, this is an excellent way to contribute to the wellbeing of others.”
The HIV Health Services Planning Council was established on October 3, 1995 by the Board of Supervisors to qualify for federal HIV/AIDS funding, known as Ryan White Title I funds. In 2007, the Santa Clara County HIV Planning Council for Prevention and Care was established when two predecessor groups - one required by the U.S. Center for Disease Control and the other required the by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services - merged. Broad representation of stakeholders is required and the group must be mindful of federal guidelines in its decision making process.
The Planning Council is comprised of community stakeholders, including medical professionals, representatives from AIDS services and community-based organizations, representatives of governmental organizations, and family members, friends, and those directly affected by HIV/AIDS in Santa Clara County. The Planning Council, in partnership with the HIV/AIDS Program Office, develops an annual three year work plan. It is the goal of the HIV Planning Council for Prevention and Care that the work plan contributes to the health and wellbeing of all persons living with and at risk for HIV/AIDS in the county.
Dena Dickinson, chair of the Council Development Committee, joined the Planning Council in 2001. She works for County’s Valley Health & Hospital System as the Health Center Manager for PACE Clinic, TB/Refugee Clinic, and Valley Homeless Healthcare Program.
When she is not busy traveling, hiking, or spending time with the young adults for whom she was an advocate when they were minors in foster care, Dickinson, is thinking of ways she can recruit more people to serve on the HIV Planning Council for Prevention and Care.
“I do this because I want to have an impact on the lives of people living with or at risk for HIV/AIDS,” said Dickinson. “We are fortunate to live in an area with so much diversity and serving on the HIV/AIDS Planning Council enables me to make decisions that actually affect people’s lives and the services they receive.”
“We have problems attracting Ryan White consumer members,” said Bob Reed, Co-Chair of the Council. “The feds require that many voices contribute to this decision making process and sometimes it is difficult to fulfill their specific requirements.” Ryan White consumers are badly needed and encouraged to find out if they qualify to fill a position.
A retired nurse, Reed has been serving on the Council since 2004. “I first joined to help the group have a quorum, so it could make decisions,” continued Reed. “It has been so rewarding to be a part of a county where we have a high quality system of care that my involvement has continued to expand over the years. I’m very passionate about this work. It is extremely worthwhile.”
When he is not volunteering or working on Planning Council business, Reed spends time puttering in his rose garden to recharge.
His counterpart, co-chair Jerry Larson puts in about 1-2 hours daily on matters pertaining to the Planning Council. He, too, began serving in 2001. He attributes his tenure to seeing consistently great reviews by the federal oversight agency. “For the past eight years, we have been able to sustain a substantial level of funding and this has occurred at a time that resources for many programs have been cut.”
"The face of HIV/AIDS has changed a lot over the years,” said Larson. “It is no longer just a gay male’s disease. People from many different backgrounds are affected and I get to do something to help make life a little easier for them.”
A typical workday for Larson - who began his career as a performing arts administrator in Montana and worked in San Francisco in the hospitality industry - begins at 4:00 a.m., every day at the Health Trust Food Basket. He puts in twelve hour a day, 3 days a week as a volunteer. The organization distributes food to 300-400 people each month. When he is not volunteering or working on Planning Council business, he spends time work with other HIV/AIDS projects, enjoying local sports and the Bay Area music scene.
As for the future, the group is waiting to see how the new Affordable Health Care Act will affect the HIV Planning Council for Prevention and Care. They have a simple formula for measuring their success: Is service being delivered to the people who need it?
“In an ideal world, we would like to put ourselves out of business,” Dickinson continued. “But right now, HIV/AIDS is still a big problem in our communities and our goal is to reach the people most at risk or affected. The more people involved in educating the community about rational, clear thinking, responsible behavior, the better our chances of achieving this goal.”
“Whatever direction the new health care policies take, it is important that consumers of HIV/AIDS services be an integral part of the decision making process,” continue Reed.
The County is currently seeking members to appoint to the HIV Planning Council for Prevention and Care. The 29 members of the Planning Council serve three-year terms. Meetings are held at every second Tuesday of the month, 6:00 p.m. at Park Alameda Health Facility, 976 Lenzen Avenue, San Jose, CA 95126 and are open to the public. Interested candidates are encouraged to attend one or
two meetings to learn more about the work.
All of the Planning Council interviewees are encouraging young people to take on the challenge of serving the community. “We have all been performing this labor of love for awhile and we will continue to do so,” said Reed. “It is very gratifying work and we would love to see younger members of the community involved.”
There are 10 vacant seats available. Vacant seats include the need for 4 Ryan White consumers, a service provider from a health care planning agency, a provider from the local Public Health Agency, a Substance Use provider, a member from the state Medicaid Agency, and others.
For more information and/or to apply for membership, visit the Planning Council web site at www.scchivplanningcouncil.org. Applications and Membership Handbook are online as well.
Posted: September 28, 2012
Media Contact: Gwendolyn Mitchell/Shirley Zackor, Offfice of Public Affairs(408) 299-5119