D.C. HIV/AIDS Chief's Exit Raises Eyebrows

Shannon Hader's sudden resignation draws questions

The sudden and unexpected resignation of D.C. HIV/AIDS Administration Director Shannon Hader, who is widely credited with turning around the beleaguered agency, is raising quizzical eyebrows.

Hader has been one of the brightest lights of Mayor Adrian Fenty’s administration. As the Washington Post writes, when Hader arrived three years ago, the city AIDS administration “was a laughingstock, beset with financial problems that caused it to miss payments to agencies that cared for the sick,” while some contractors “failed to get a business license and file tax returns” and “spent lavishly on travel.”

In addition to those structural and bureaucratic woes, Hader focused on gathering information on who was infected with HIV/AIDS in the District, which resulted in the 2008 Epidemiology Update. That report, which the Post calls “groundbreaking,” showed that 3 percent of the city’s population was HIV/AIDS-positive – three times the threshold for a general epidemic. That resulted in a rush of HIV/AIDS funding for the city from the CDC, NIH, and the Global Business Coalition.

Council member David Catania called the city’s loss of Hader “catastrophic.” But why is the city losing her?

The news release from the mayor’s office announcing that chief medical officer Nnemdi Kamanu Elias will be Hader’s temporary replacement did not even mention Hader, and at a news conference – which Catania noticeably skipped -- Department of Health Director Pierre Vigilance barely acknowledged Hader or her achievements. There is speculation that disagreements between Hader and Vigilance may be behind her quick exit.

D.C. AIDS activist Peter Rosenstein told the Washington Blade, “I share the concern of the community about the abrupt departure of Dr. Hader. We have to make sure we don’t fall back into the hole again on AIDS.”

The Post’s Mike DeBonis calls her exit “a setback for Mayor Adrian Fenty” as the “well-regarded and widely lauded anchor” of the mayor’s top public health priority “leaves under mysterious circumstances.” His Post colleague Jonathan Capehart says he hopes Fenty can find another HIV/AIDS chief “to match the passion and leadership Hader brought to the post.”

For her part, Hader “told the Blade in an e-mail that she would leave it to the mayor’s office to comment on details surrounding her resignation rather than discuss the matter herself.” In her message, Hader, who is taking a job at a private sector health organization, wrote, “I will continue to be involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS, just changing hats from time to time. … I am a resident, I am a constituent, I am passionate about our community and feel privileged to be (and continue to be) a part of it!” 

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