AIDS Project Rhode Island names new Executive Director

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April 7, 2011
By: Joe Siegel/TRT Reporter

Tom Bertrand has been named as the new Executive Director of AIDS Project Rhode Island. Bertrand fills the position held by Stephen Hourahan, who is now working for Governor Lincoln Chafee as a Senior Advisor.

Bertrand, who has worked 20 years in public health, comes to the job from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, where he spent six years as director of the Division of Sexually Transmitted Disease Prevention and HIV/AIDS Surveillance, and most recently as program director for the Division of Emergency Medicine Research at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Bertrand plans to focus on case management, in addition to beefing up APRI’s prevention efforts, and to strengthen relationships with community members and state government departments.

Bertrand is a former assistant division director of the Rhode Island Department of Health’s Division of Disease Control and Prevention, and former chief administrator of the state’s Office of Communicable Disease. On a national level, Bertrand has held leadership positions on the board of the National Coalition of STD Directors.

“In my capacity as STD Director for Mass., I developed and managed many programs to prevent and control the spread of syphilis,” Bertrand explained. “About 90% of the syphilis cases were in gay men, and of them 50% were co-infected with HIV. In collaboration with (Boston’s) Fenway Community Health, I made great strides in establishing a website to promote HIV/STD testing among gay men, improving partner services using the Internet, and developing sexual health fact sheets for gay/bi-sexual men.”

His degrees include a master’s in Public Health in Epidemiology from the State University of New York, Albany, and an undergraduate degree in biology from Vassar College.

Bertrand explains that he makes “decisions based on data” and utilizes public health theory and community input in the creation of programs. He has always had an interest in preventing communicable diseases and working with the communities affected most by HIV/AIDS.
In 2008, APRI, which is based in Providence, merged with Family Service of RI. Bertrand feels the partnership has benefited the organization.
“We are well positioned for the future,” Bertrand said, adding that APRI has a “strong” relationship with rival agency AIDS Care Ocean State.
Although the state’s AIDS service organizations have struggled with cutbacks in funding, Bertrand notes that APRI will be able to maintain the same level of services for its clients. APRI serves 250 clients right now.
“We’re on very good footing right now,” Bertrand said.
Bertrand doesn’t feel the gay community has grown complacent as the AIDS epidemic enters its fourth decade. He notes there are “gaps in information and education”, which are largely generational. Men in their 20 and 30s have different perspectives on AIDS than gay men in their 50s and 60s. Bertrand would like to conduct a community-based needs assessment.
One of Bertrand’s first projects is the upcoming Dining Out for Life event on Thursday, April 28.  45 participating restaurants from across the state will be donating a portion of their proceeds to AIDS Project RI. APRI is seeking volunteers to serve as Table Captains and Ambassadors.
Another popular fundraising event is Gay Bingo, which is held once a month at Riviera Bingo Palace in Cranston. The event is hosted by the popular drag queen Miss Kitty Litter.
Founded in 1985 by a small group of doctors, nurses and community activists, AIDS Project RI was the state’s first AIDS service organization.

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