Missoula Aids Council Executive Director Christa Weathers is breathing a little easier this month after learning the state will provide $166,980 to help fund statewide HIV and hepatitis C prevention efforts crippled last year by a funding cut.
"They stepped in and filled a major need," Weathers says of the grant awarded Jan. 1 through the Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS).
Last year was a tough one for Weathers and the Missoula AIDS Council (MAC). The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in June did not renew a grant that had paid the nonprofit roughly $325,000 every year for 10 years. MAC used the money to fund its Montana Targeted Prevention program (MTAP), which paid subcontractors—specifically gay men, American Indians and recovering drug addicts—to educate their own high-risk communities about how to prevent the spread of incurable and expensive-to-treat blood-borne disease. Outreach workers also conducted hepatitis C and HIV testing.
Losing the CDC grant forced Weathers to lay off 14 MTAP outreach workers across the state. Plus, the federal money constituted half of MAC's annual operating budget, leaving the organization on unstable financial footing.
The new DPHHS grant will now enable MAC to hire five outreach workers who will work under a new program called Actively Reaching Montana (ARM). As with the now defunct MTAP, ARM will deploy subcontractors who are uniquely equipped to communicate with their defined demographics. The program will serve communities in Kalispell, Missoula, Butte, Great Falls and Billings.
Laurie Kops, supervisor of Montana's STD and HIV prevention programs at DPHHS, was instrumental in securing the new grant. She says as HIV and hepatitis C continues to spread in Montana, the funds came as a relief.
"I didn't expect to get it," Kops says.
Though the new grant will bolster prevention efforts, it's a one-time offering. Weathers is acutely aware of that fact and remains concerned about MAC's financial future.
"It's a band-aid. It's not a permanent fix," Weathers says. "There's still a lot of work to be done."