From GayNZ.com

Health & HIV
Update: Body Positive, after the battle
By Jay Bennie
30th December 2016 - 12:32 pm

Last year in the months before Christmas a public row between the board of Body Positive and a group of its members was messy, at times nasty and looking like it could seriously destabilise the organisation.

In the background were a toxic mix of personality clashes, a process of strategic and operational change, as well as geographical issues and simmering frustration on all sides.

Bruce Kilmister had been for decades the General Manager of Body Positive, the country's largest HIV-positive people's advocacy and support organisation, which caters primarily to gay and bi men - those most likely to have HIV in New Zealand.

His retirement earlier in the year was seen by some as an opportunity for much-needed change and by others as being seized on by the board to push through a new and unwelcome agenda.

Just before Christmas a vote of no confidence in the board had seen it resign en masse and an interim board was appointed by the membership to find a way forward. Kilmister became the Chair of that board and, a few months later when a more permanent board was voted in he remained as Chair. In his Christmas message to members he referred to the past twelve months as a “rough” year, which is quite an understatement. A higher than usual number of deaths of members was tough to deal through 2016 with but it was the 2015 board vs a group of angry members stoush which really cast a shadow over the organisation.

Driving that whole ferrago was “a lack of transparencey between the board and a group of members who were increasingly concerned that the then-board was deviating from a policy of members' support,” says Kilmister. “And that they were pursuing a policy of more strategic directions that didn't include member services and ensuring that the members were kept up to date. That caused a great deal of anxiety, along with the closing of the Wellington Office and the letting go of the Wellington staff who had been with Body Positive for a number of years and had formed a number of strong relationships with members who were very upset about the loss of that facility.”

The job of the interim board was “to look at the situation and to ensure things would settle down as much as we could manage... and it made recommendations that the new board that it should look at providing services for members other than Auckland. Because one of the issues is that all the services we provide are available for Auckland people and they can come into the drop-in centre, they can have access to staff but there's not a lot out beyond that.”

Kilmister says this past year the board and General Manager Mark Fisher have been developing the Positive Leaders programme which will place an identifiable person in each of the other main centres to manage our affairs there, someone on a retainer who will look after programmes and members issues. And they will work with the clinicians outpatients' offices so for newly diagnosed people there is a Body Positive representative who can take them in hand and assist them through not only their diagnosis but any of the other issues around coming to terms with living with HIV and that usually means a lot to do with stigma and discrimination and a lot to do with understanding treatments and medications and just coping and telling or not telling those who should or shouldn't know.

And also with the new health legislation where HIV is now notifiable I think that is going to be more important to newly-diagnosed people to get assistance from Body Positive so that they're not simply left in the realms of the public health system and asked questions about contact tracing and who they may have slept with and all that. I think that's where we can best supply support for people.

It should be pointed out, however, that much of this programme was already being put into place by the original board. Now that is it being instituted, by a new board, there seems to have been little concern voiced by members. “I think there was a process of change that wasn't explained satisfactorily to the members and the members were afraid of it and some of them were downright opposed to it,” Kilmister says.

“And I suppose there are still some who don't like change or who are suspicious of change. I've tried to ascertain the reasons behind that and there are some who are concerned about the dropping of services. The board are more determined than ever that those services should be retained and I am perhaps, now that I am back as chair, I'm even more determined myself because I initiated most of those services and the one I am particularly proud of is the Positive Health scheme which pays for all of the medical expenses and associated day to day costs of people who struggle financially to be able to go to the doctor and can wake up one day and feel they need to see a doctor but 'I can't because I owe him money from the last visit,' or who feel they can't call an ambulance because they've got an outstanding bill from St John's... we can negate all that so they can simply access health and services without any concerns."

From Kilmister's perspective it's been that basic: making sure that the board's activities and considerations are transparent and that the members are informed. “We now make our board minutes available, unless there is something very personal. Every member can come to every board meeting, to the open forum section he meetings start with. And we're putting out a survey to all members to find out what their current issues are and what they think of the services provided. That will enable us to look at how we have either advanced or retrenched or how things are standing at the moment.”

For now “we're focused on the Wellington issue, and we're looking to terminate the lease on the premises down there because it is expensive, it's a drain. We have been flying an Auckland staffer to Wellington to help those members who need some specialised expertise in issues around WINZ support and stuff like that.”

And a major bequest from a member means the organisation may at last be able to significantly escape the demoralising financial hand-to-mouth existence which has cursed it for decades.

For now, Kilmister says, BP is “on an even keel, running well and we've got a good year to look forward to.”






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