Faculty member to share research at White House meeting
“I recently completed a study that showed that people with HIV who used vocational rehabilitation had better outcomes related to the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, including increased access to care; reduction of risk behaviors associated with HIV transmission; and higher rates of engagement in supplementary employment services,” Conyers said. “My efforts are to try to figure out how we can coordinate services among federal agencies, to ensure that people with HIV/AIDS who need vocational rehabilitation services are getting them. The results of a national survey I completed in 2008 showed that many people with HIV were not familiar with vocational rehabilitation services.”
The Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) System is authorized and funded under what is now the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). One of the regulations in the act is that 15 percent of funding for vocational rehabilitation services has to be targeted for youth in transition.
“Although I agree with the importance of addressing the needs of youth in transition, I raised concerns about the implications of that requirement because no additional funds are provided to meet this new mandate, which will make it more challenging for state vocational rehabilitation services to meet the needs of adults with chronic illness. I questioned whether it would be important to consider the possible public health impact of VR services when considering how to best improve services and resources for this population,” Conyers said.
Conyers said this issue is of critical importance, because of the advances in treatment of HIV and AIDS.
“Many people might still think, ‘Oh, why would people with AIDS work?’ because they may hear AIDS and think somebody’s dying. And on the other hand some people may be reading the popular media and saying, ‘If they’re taking drugs there’s no problem,’” Conyers said. “HIV, like all chronic or episodic illnesses, can lead to significant disruptions to vocational development, and not everybody responds to treatment the same way. It’s a very, very complex challenge.”
Conyers initially raised her concerns at a meeting she attended in December to discuss the critical issues faced by programs available under the Ryan White Care Act, which works with cities, states and local community-based organizations to provide services to an estimated 536,000 people each year who do not have sufficient health care coverage or financial resources to cope with HIV disease.
“One of the people at the Ryan White Policy Project meeting was Connie Garner, former Congressional Aide for Sen. Kennedy. She’s worked on the Affordable Care Act, the Ryan White Care Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the prior Workforce Investment Act,” Conyers said.
Garner thought Conyers’ research would be valuable to those implementing WIOA and invited Conyers to follow-up. She did, by emailing Garner and others, including Douglas M. Brooks, director of the Office of National AIDS Policy.
“I wanted to share the results of my research and how it relates, because I don’t think there’s ever been any research that shows the relationship between vocational rehabilitation and public health outcomes,” Conyers said. “In addition to my research, there are broader studies that provide some evidence that when people are working they take better care of themselves. So basically I was just asking about whether there would be an opportunity to offer that information, and I thought that was going to be the end of it.”
Instead, Conyers received an invitation to share her research in a meeting hosted by the White House Office of National AIDS Policy with the CEO and deputy director of the Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation, among others, to discuss these issues and to explore what might be the best way to move forward.
“I don’t know what the specific outcome of the meeting will be,” Conyers said. “But I’m sure already there’s been an impact because of all the people we’re talking to and educating just to prepare for the meeting.”
Conyers also thinks that beyond these specific regulations it may be possible to address other, broader areas, such as how to meet the employment provisions of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy.
This is not Conyers’ first trip to the White House on official business.
“I was invited to the White House for a strategic meeting last August among top federal leaders across a range of departments to consider the employment provisions of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy. I opened the meeting to provide a summary of the research in this area. It was a discussion about what the different agencies are currently doing and what would we all need to do to work together to continue to address these issues.”
Conyers also was invited by the Secretary of Labor to present at a federal roundtable on HIV and employment in 2011; by members of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for a research team related to equal employment opportunity research; and by the Department of Labor and the Department of Housing and Urban Development to participate in a recorded discussion of some of the research on and importance of HIV and employment issues for training that they were developing.
Conyers will be embarking upon a sabbatical in the fall to work with the Pennsylvania Department of Health to integrate some of these issues into their processes and do a more thorough assessment of the vocational needs and resources for Pennsylvanians with HIV and AIDS.
For more information about Conyers’ research, click here.
By Annemarie Mountz (January 2015)