With efforts to implement the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) unfolding across the country, we thought it would be valuable to gather our Federal colleagues in this region to identify ways to coordinate and collaborate in our HIV/AIDS-related activities. After all, the NHAS calls for a more coordinated national response to the epidemic. To realize the goals of the NHAS, this coordination must take place not just at the Federal level, but also at the regional, state and community levels.
As the senior Federal public health official in the region for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), my responsibilities encompass four major areas: prevention, preparedness, health equity, and agency-wide coordination. In this capacity, I work closely with the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health (OASH), which has taken a lead role in forging collaborations across HHS and with other Federal departments to implement the NHAS. Borrowing from that example, we planned a joint meeting of regional staff from HHS and other Federal departments for a discussion about implementing the NHAS in this region. The HHS Region VIII encompasses Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming.
The level of enthusiasm from our partners was impressive. Joining in this conversation were regional representatives of numerous HHS agencies including the Health Services and Resources Administration (HRSA), Administration on Aging (AoA), Administration on Children and Families (ACF), Office for Civil Rights (OCR), Office of Population Affairs (OPA), Office of Minority Health (OMH), and Office on Women’s Health (OWH). In addition, representatives from the Departments of Agriculture, Education, Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Justice (DOJ), Labor (DOL), and Veterans Affairs (VA), and the Social Security Administration (SSA) joined the discussion (this list includes all of the agencies tasked by the White House with lead responsibility for implementing the Strategy as well as several other welcome additions). The broad organizational diversity of the partners, along with their collective depth of experience and perspective made for a very rich discussion.
Though some participants were already familiar with the NHAS, others were just learning about it and what roles their agencies play in its implementation. So, the meeting included reviewing the NHAS and the Federal Implementation Plan. Representatives from HUD, DOJ, DOL, VA, and SSA as well as HHS shared overviews of their respective agencies’ NHAS operational plans. All of this helped establish a shared foundation of knowledge about the NHAS, and also helped surface some untapped opportunities for cross-agency collaborations.
After a lively three-hour conversation, the participants identified many benefits to continuing our collaboration at the regional level and have agreed to continue conferring monthly. My colleague, Ms. Lisa Cohen, from the HIV/AIDS Regional Resource Network Program, helped organize the meeting and will chair the regional interagency workgroup. Eventually we hope to be able to share insights and opportunities resulting from our collaborations across programs with our state and local government partners in support of their efforts to implement the NHAS.
With the NHAS as a framework to guide our efforts, in this region Federal staff both within and outside of HHS are in the process of discovering where and how our collaborative efforts can best support the communities we serve as we all work to realize the Strategy’s goals.