Unified Looks Toward a Future of Innovation

By |2016-03-10T09:00:00-05:00March 10th, 2016|Michigan, News|

The new executive leadership team of Unified HIV Health and Beyond includes Jimena Loveluck, vice president of community research and innovation; William VanHemert, president and CEO; and Angelique Tomsic, vice president of programs and operations. (BTL photo: Jason A. Michael)

Though they officially merged over a year ago, it wasn’t until December that the former AIDS Partnership Michigan and HIV/AIDS Resource Center announced the name of their new combined organization would be Unified – HIV Health and Beyond. Now, 90 days out from that name change, the executive leadership team of the agency sat down with Between The Lines to look at how things were coming together under that new name and what the future holds for what it is now the largest AIDS Service Organization in the state.
Comprising the executive leadership team are William VanHemert, president and CEO; Jimena Loveluck, vice president of community research and innovation; and the newly appointed Angelique Tomsic, vice president of programs and operations. Together they spoke with excitement about what’s happening at Unified, which now serves 10 counties in southeastern Michigan.
“We’re really focusing on the programming and the integration of programming,” said VanHemert. “In 2014 it was really the due diligence, and 2015 was really more about board structure and looking at what we call the back office, looking at the finance and payroll. Now with Angel coming on board as VP of programing and operations, we’re really starting to look at how all three offices — Jackson, Ypsilanti and Detroit — have similar funding, similar programs and seeing how we can cross-train in terms of promoting and also seeing what we do good.
“For example, our Ypsi office is very well known for their harm reduction, their mobile unit and (we’re looking at) how to bring that into Detroit,” VanHemert continued. “We here (in Detroit) have behavioral health and mental health services and (we’re looking at) how to bring that into our Ypsi office. So it’s really focusing on program integration and developing those. And that’s also staff integration and personnel.”
No one has been laid off as a result of the merger and besides the new name, clients have likely noticed very few changes beyond maybe some new forms.
“For our clients, really nothing has changed with the merger,” said Loveluck. “Their services have continued as they always have and they will go to the same office and work with the same case managers or testing counselors. So, we’ve tried to make it a really seamless process for our clients.”
For the leadership team and other staff, Loveluck said the biggest challenge of merging is not having enough time.
“While the merger has legally taken place, there’s still a lot of work that we’re doing to integrate operations and programs and at the same time we have all these other ideas of what we want to do,” she said. “So it’s really a matter of prioritizing and being realistic as we set those priorities. We’ve been working with staff, with our board, to really help us prioritize what are going to be our goals for the future from one year out to three years out so that we’re not completely overwhelmed and spinning our wheels, but really being as effective as we can. That’s part of why we merged: to increase our capacity and increase our impact. But we want to do that in a thoughtful way.”
As VP of community research and innovation, Loveluck said there are three projects occupying a great deal of her time. MFierce is a three year project funded by the CDC that focuses on reducing sexually transmitted infections and HIV among certain populations. “Our target populations are young and gay bisexual men and transgender women,” said Loveluck. “So through a very long, year-long planning process that included community forums and the involvement of a youth advisory board, we’re focusing on two different areas. One is developing the youth advisory board into sort of an advocacy collective group so that they can provide technical assistance and training to other youth serving organizations, particularly when it comes to HIV and STD prevention. And also providing training and technical assistance to health care providers to help them better serve LGBT populations, young LGBT populations, in the Metro Detroit area and also the Flint area.”
Then there is the HIV Stigma Index, which is a project that has been implemented in more than 50 countries around the world. The Index is a way of measuring the impact that HIV stigma has on the lives of people who live with HIV.
“There was a pilot done in Metro Detroit, and the unique aspect of this project is that people living with HIV are trained to be interviewers and they interview other people living with HIV about their experience with stigma,” Loveluck said.
The third project is still in its infancy stage, but Loveluck said it aims to look at how the agency can incorporate better substance use risk assessment in the HIV counseling and testing services they provide.
“It’s so we can better address substance use issues and link people to services they might need,” she said. “It’s just getting started and it’s actually a four-year project that’s funded federally through the Department of Health and Human Services.”
VanHemert said the agency will continue to grow as the face of HIV/AIDS continues to change.
“We were born as an AIDS Service Organization, but now we know that with HIV becoming a chronic disease we’re looking at the person as a whole and those other types of chronic illnesses and diseases that individuals may have,” he said. “What services do they need? That’s why we really are developing the branch that Jimena is VP over in terms of the whole research and innovation. It’s looking at substance abuse and how that relates to HIV, looking at mental health services, really increasing mental health services for those who are HIV positive, and also moving on to some advocacy work. That’s where with the Stigma Index we really saw that — that letting those who are HIV positive be their own advocates can be beneficial.”
So the proud histories of both APM and HARC will now move forward together to build a better, stronger Unified.
“So much of our history is based on amazing activism and advocacy and we don’t want to lose that,” said Loveluck. “While HIV is viewed very differently in the situation with treatment — and even prevention has changed tremendously — I think we still need to ensure that the voices of the people living with HIV are heard. So I think that’s the other piece that I’m really looking forward to focusing on in the coming years — strengthening that advocacy piece, strengthening the voice in Michigan through the HIV/AIDS Alliance of Michigan and partnering with its members and also partnering through other advocacy groups and being more vocal in terms of the advocacy we need to do in our state around HIV criminalization, around access to PrEP. I think those are messages we really need to focus on, and I’m looking forward to working on that, too.”

About the Author:

Jason A. Michael
Jason A. Michael joined Between The Lines as a contributing writer in 1999. He has received both the Spirit of Detroit Award (presented by the Detroit City Council) and the Media Award from the Community Pride Banquet & Awards Ceremony for his writing and activism. Jason is also an Essence magazine bestselling author for his authorized biography "Strength Of A Woman: The Phyllis Hyman Story," released on his own JAM Books imprint.