We have created a new series called “Voices from the Front Line” for our blog and Update, our newsletter. With these profiles we’re letting you hear from AIDS Action’s people who do the work every day that prevents new infections and who connect people living with HIV to care, support and services. In this installment we check in with Susan Tannehill, AIDS Action’s Director of Client Services.
What first brought you to AAC?
It was 11 yrs ago, when a friend of mine who was HIV positive asked if I knew how to type, which I did. He said they needed help at AIDS Action and shortly thereafter, I took the job as the Assistant Coordinator for the Housing Program. It was a great fit
Were you always with client services or did you work for other departments in the agency?
From those early days in Housing/Rental assistance to now as the Director of Client Services, my work here has always been with our clients. I think I echo the whole CS department when I say, there’s a huge sense of satisfaction with the work we do in offering concrete services like transportation to medical appointments to less quantifiable things like emotional support.
With the recent move by the State ofMassachusettsto require all residents to have health care, does this law present any new challenges to our clients or for the agency?
I think the challenges are more for the general public. We haven’t seen any appreciable change in the way our clients are able to access services or providers. The State has done a very good job at maintaining health care for HIV/AIDS in the face of increasing budget constraints and deep cuts.
What changes have you seen in your 11 years here?
Just as I started with AAC a new class of drugs, the protease inhibitors, were just being introduced. Over the next couple of years, we saw a gradual shift in some of the needs of our clients – programs that had been running when I first arrived, like the Buddy Program, were slowly phased out because the needs of the clients changed.
What was the Buddy Program?
It was started in 1983, and it partnered a volunteer with someone living with HIV/AIDS who was having a hard time. It helped them with their day to day needs like buying groceries, running errands and most importantly, plain and simple one on one support on a regular basis.
Have there been any other big changes in your tenure?
Well, we also had two significant budget reductions some years ago – that had a dramatic impact on how we serve clients. Of course, the medications we spoke about have brought about amazing changes. I have also been here through the transition in leadership at the agency, with Larry Kessler’s departure and Rebecca Haag’s arrival, new leadership always brings new perspective. I think this has kept the agency relevant.
Are there programs that you are particularly proud or fond of?
Well, probably because I started there, I have to say we do great work in the area of housing assistance. And even though the treatment of AIDS has changed with the advent of the newer drugs, 11 years later our whole department still serves a client roster of approximately 2800 people, with roughly 1000 women and 1800 men. The other amazing statistic is that for the past number the average annual income for any of our clients, male or female has held steady at approximately $10k per year.
What is a dream program for you, regardless of funding?
If funding weren’t an issue, I guess that we could always use more housing. The inventory of available units is too small and we are constantly running up against barriers like the CORI issue with the housing authorities. I’d also like to see a Women’s Health Center, somewhat based on the model of the services we provide currently at The Male Center in the South End. With a women’s clinic, we could offer more services and grow “horizontally” and include more medical based services especially for women. The women we see today have cancer, asthma, domestic violence issues all of which need to be addressed and we have the flexibility and expertise to do it.