2017 Make A Promise Message

Remarks of Michael J. Gifford, ARCW President and Chief Executive Officer:


Good evening ladies and gentlemen and thank you for Striking a Pose this evening  –  a pose of defiance against the still relentless AIDS epidemic.

Our theme tonight draws upon the strength of Madonna’s famous song Vogue and the lyrics Strike a Pose that ushered in a bold, ground breaking new era for entertainment – even if our parents totally hated it. It was here to stay.

The music and the lyrics, her outfits, and those dance steps, and wow most of all that coffee table book came to demonstrate that by pushing beyond conventional wisdom extraordinary success could be achieved.

Like Madonna, together we have smartly moved beyond conventional wisdom with a defiant spirit, a bold vision, and endless, ground-breaking efforts, to guide the country’s response to AIDS, thanks to you.

We have driven down new HIV infection rates by 75% since Madonna burst on to the music scene.

When we launched clean needle exchange conventional wisdom misguidedly called it genocide.For more than two decades we have proven that needle exchange is anything but that.  It is a life-affirming, life-giving, life-saving program.  Even the most conservative estimates show we have saved thousands of lives from HIV, rescued more than 4,500 people from opioid overdose death and gotten thousands more into treatment giving them a drug-free life and dramatically reducing their risk of HIV.

As the Internet reshaped how we communicate and connect, conventional wisdom was you couldn’t effectively provide HIV prevention online.   ARCW pushed ahead as the first in our state to conduct HIV outreach to educate gay men on the Internet, provide them on-demand HIV counseling and easy access to condoms and testing.

Our bold action continues today with the deployment of PrEP - the strongest HIV prevention strategy of our time.  We have enrolled hundreds in this new life saving prevention program.  And while the results are early, it appears that PrEP is a primary contributor to a further reduction in new HIV infections.  I hope you take great pride in this success because a year ago you so generously supported the launch of our PrEP program through the Make a Promise envelope appeal.

Our dedication to going beyond conventional wisdom has more than prevented thousands of infections.  Thanks to you we have created a one of a kind service delivery model that has boldly defied AIDS from claiming the lives of our more than 4,000 patients and clients living with HIV.

Early on the food pantry system in Milwaukee prioritized distribution of food to families, especially single moms with kids.  Many of our male patients were left with very little at the end of the month or they were completely left out.  The conventional wisdom was Milwaukee did not need more food pantries.  You, though, propelled us forward with proceeds from Make a Promise.  The donations bought refrigerators and freezers, collected food and delivered it to our patients.  Today the ARCW food pantry has grown to serve every county of Wisconsin, provide more than 500,000 pounds of food annually and boldly pursue our goal that no one with HIV ever go hungry.

At that time the conventional wisdom was that ARCW could only provide social services.  But, when the leading HIV dental practice in the state closed, dental care was at the precipice of being lost.  ARCW – with no health care delivery experience at all – boldly and smartly jumped into action, relocated care to our new clinic, grew the staff and services and saved dental care for more than 1,000 patients.  Since then our dental clinic have been designated as a special project of national significance teaching the country how to provide care to low income, uninsured HIV patients in urban and rural areas.

A decade ago conventional wisdom was that ARCW should not be in the business of providing medical care.  In fact one of Wisconsin’s most prominent AIDS leaders deemed our efforts to provide medical care ‘Organizational Suicide.’  “Organizational Suicide.’ This wasn’t a mild mannered Wisconsin dissenting viewpoint – it was a prediction of catastrophe.  But at the time far too many people with HIV were not receiving the new medications that provided them a chance for a long and healthy life.  Their doctors were not experienced enough, the patients lacked health care coverage or they did not have the right kind of insurance. 

Thanks to your support ARCW boldly, maybe with a small measure of defiance, made a new promise – a promise to provide medical care for everyone with HIV, no exceptions.  Today your support allows us to maintain that promise and has enabled us to grow to be the largest provider of HIV medical care in Wisconsin – in the last year increasing the number of patients we serve by 20% to a record 1,836.

I need to say one more thing about conventional wisdom and non-profits.  The conventional wisdom is that every dollar possible be directed to care and services rather than to investments in things like information technology.  And at ARCW we invest in care with 95% of our revenue going to direct services.  But we have also made smart investments to emerge as a technology company, combining Epic, one of the world’s strongest electronic health records with state of the art quality assurance technology like Forward Health Group’s Population Manager and our new app CARE Pos to achieve some of the finest health care quality outcomes in the country.  Thank you for supporting these investments that fuel our success.

We will always challenge conventional wisdom.  We will always make smart and bold moves. And we will always hold ourselves accountable to you – our most loyal allies in our quest for a world without AIDS.

Our efforts have been tabulated.  We have been ranked and reviewed and ranked again.  The answer, thanks to you, is that people with HIV live longer here in Wisconsin than anywhere else in America.  The mortality rate in Wisconsin is half of what it is in our Midwest neighboring states and about a quarter of the national rate.

But that is not the only important progress to report.

Today, there is great agreement that we must bend the curve of the ever rising cost of health care.  And while debate on this vital topic goes on with precious few answers, we have defiantly moved forward.

Our ground-breaking HIV Medical Home is providing the answer our country so desperately needs – high quality care for all regardless of income while at the same time reducing health care costs.

Working with the Walker administration and the federal government our HIV Medical Home has been thoroughly evaluated. The results are clear.  Our care is among the finest in the country, our patients are in the hospital far less, use the emergency room far less, have shorter hospital stays and overcome enormous challenges to stay in care longer.  All this comes with a dividend – more than $4 million in annual savings to the state of Wisconsin Medicaid program.  Yes you can provide great care, you can cut costs and ARCW has defiantly shown you can bend that seemingly unmovable health care cost curve.

It is upon this success and bold history that ARCW continues to smartly go beyond conventional wisdom in defiant pursuit of our vision of a world without AIDS.  And since we gathered here last, that pursuit has taken a giant, shall we say unconventional leap forward – one of about 1,039 miles to Denver, Colorado.

Our merger of Rocky Mountain CARES into ARCW is a bold move supported by our Board of Directors unanimous adoption of our new National Strategy last September.  A strategy that will extend our life saving HIV prevention services and nationally recognized HIV Medical Home to four states in the next five years.  Denver was the right first choice.  Many people in the area with HIV are out of care and many more are at risk of losing care.  ARCW will open the first HIV Medical Home in Denver and develop new collaborations with key partners in the city to:

  • Provide life-saving care for more patients
  • Further enhance the quality of care by learning from local best practices
  • Position ourselves to better negotiate with health care insurers
  • Grow our voice in the national debate on health care
  • Strengthen our response to AIDS.

We are grateful for your trust that strengthens our efforts as we take our ground-breaking HIV Medical Home to Colorado, but the reality is that we must go further if we are to ever condemn the AIDS virus to the history books.

And in that effort we will never take our eye off of Wisconsin.

Thanks to your trust and support we have driven down new HIV infections to historic lows, but the reality is "zero" should be the number of new infections each year.  To reach this goal we will extend our PrEP clinics further into the community creating new venues for this life-saving program while we conduct more testing and exciting new prevention interventions.

Thanks to your trust and support we have defied great challenges and helped 90% of our patients to achieve an undetectable viral load – far above the national average, but the reality is that is not enough.  We will implement innovative new, customized treatment plans, launch telehealth and build a data-to-care system that is second to none in our drive to 100%.

To boldly address these difficult issues of HIV, we thank you for making a promise to support the fight against AIDS until the very end.  Tonight you have struck a bold and defiant pose that goes beyond conventional wisdom to fuel the strongest, most comprehensive response to AIDS anywhere in America. You have empowered us to do even more in the year ahead.

Thank you.