Clinic to shut down in weeks amid move to reallocate funds to other organizations

HERO AIDS

Maryland

November 11, 2008|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com

One of the oldest and best-known AIDS clinics in the state, Health Education Resource Organization, better known as HERO, will shut its doors within weeks.

City Health Commissioner Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein said the city and state health departments and Baltimore Homeless Services - the three agencies that oversee the bulk of HERO's federal grants - decided to "move those grants to other providers," by mid-December. "From my perspective, this is a decision to protect the patients," he said.

For 25 years, HERO has provided medical care, legal help and counseling to clients with HIV and AIDS. Its Web site says it serves about 3,000 infected and at-risk people each year. But financial troubles have persisted since 2004, when some staff members alleged that the longtime director was misusing money for his personal gain. Dr. Leonardo Ortega, who was never charged with a crime, left the organization in 2007.

HERO has since gone through two other directors. The most recent, Lenora Davis, said she left on Oct. 15. She said it would be "inappropriate" to discuss why. Calls to the main number at Hero's Maryland Community Resource Center at 1734 Maryland Ave. were not returned. Michelle Owens-Goode, identified by some HERO employees and associates as the acting director, did not return numerous calls yesterday.

Former state Sen. Larry Young, a HERO board member for three years, called news of the closure "devastating."

"We should all be ashamed," he said. "We have taken one of the premier organizations, and we're letting it be disbanded. There is enough blame to go around. I don't fault just the city or the state. The board failed, as well."

The city has a hot line to help HERO clients: 410-396-1408.

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