UW Hospital and Clinics has lost a nationally known HIV/AIDS educator because, she says, it ordered her to stop spending time working with HIV/AIDS patients.
Heidi Nass, the subject of an Isthmus profile ("Taking It Personally," 8/7/09), worked for nine years with the hospital's HIV/AIDS Comprehensive Care Program, serving as its director of treatment education and community advocacy. A main part of her job, as someone who is herself HIV-positive, was to support others with the virus or the disease it can lead to.
But Nass says she was told on April 7 by Dr. Jim Sosman, the program's new medical director, that her job focus was changing: "I would not be working with patients in the clinic anymore - no treatment ed, no peer support for the newly diagnosed." Says Nass, "He basically eliminated the most important part of my job."
In addition, Nass says Sosman ended her role as head of a local Community Advisory Council and said she'd henceforth need outside approval "for all community-ed work or public advocacy or engagement with media." She promptly resigned; her last day was April 14. She says no effort was made to get her to stay: "I honestly think he wanted me to leave."
Calls to Dr. Sosman were fielded by UW Health spokeswoman Lisa Brunette, who denies that the duties of Nass' position were cut. Rather, "the grant funding her activities ran out, and she was subsequently asked to take on different responsibilities related to the care of HIV patients," Brunette says. "Heidi declined to accept the new roles and submitted a letter of resignation soon after."
Nass says this just isn't true: "The grant did not run out. It is midstream. They just submitted work plans and budgets for the coming year."
The sister of Republican state Rep. Steve Nass and a national leader in HIV/AIDS education and activism, Nass has served on multiple panels, and her writing has been published extensively. She's currently guest-editing a special issue of Positively Aware, a national HIV/AIDS magazine; a draft of her lead editorial mentions her resignation over the UW's "blatant disregard for peer advocacy."
Nass' loss is already being lamented. "Heidi is the most eloquent and informed HIV/AIDS advocate I have ever met," writes local activist Greg Milward on WisconsinHIV.com. He quotes the praises of others, including a clinic patient who said, "Her tenacity and passion will no doubt carry her far in her quest to leave the world a better and less fearful place." - B.L.