Last-minute insurance requirements cancel HIV/AIDS Awareness Week

Pierce College Student Health Center Director Beth Benne shook her head and fought back tears when she described one of her leukemia patients who died of AIDS in the early 1980s.

HIV is not the death sentence it once was, Benne said. But that didn’t change her thoughts about the cancellation of this semester’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Week.

The four-day event was scheduled for Oct. 27 – 30 but was scrapped. The non-profit organizations that thought they were signed up to do the testing could not afford a last-minute insurance change by the LA Community College School District (LACCD).

“I’m devastated,” Benne said. “This is big for me. I’m personally vested in HIV and AIDS education and awareness.”

The LACCD required BIENESTAR and AIDS Health Foundation to sign a letter of subrogation, which was designed to cover the LACCD from potential damages from a workers’ comp claim if an employee from either organization were injured at Pierce, Benne said.

“In other words, the workers comp insurance company is waiving their rights to come after us to pay for some of the workers’ comp,” Benne said.

BIENESTAR’s workers’ compensation carrier, Frenkel & Company, agreed to the letter of subrogation, Benne said. But they would have charged BIENESTAR for it, which the non-profit organization could not afford.

The letter’s cost was based on a percentage of BIENESTAR’s payroll, and was “totally, way out of our budget,” BIENESTAR President Oscar De La O said.

LACCD’s insurance costs have risen in recent years as a result of litigation, Pierce Associate Vice President Larry Kraus said.

“The risk manager has taken some steps to mitigate that exposure,” Kraus said.

The district also increased the amount of insurance coverage for vehicles parked on the Mall from $1 million to $5 million. But BIENESTAR planned to park its mobile testing station in a parking lot, so the new $5 million premium was not a factor in the cancellation.

“BIENESTAR says, ‘OK we can do this,’” Benne said. “And I’m going, ‘whew, got that one done.’ Then, something comes up called the letter of subrogation with workers comp, and I went, ‘what’s a letter of subrogation.’”

Leila Menzies, LACCD vice president of Administration, Risk Management, called Benne on Oct. 22, five days before the event was to begin. Menzies told her the district would have waived the letter of subrogation for this semester on the condition that they would have agreed to figure out a new deal for next semester and beyond, Benne said.

Benne said she immediately called BIENESTAR, but left a voicemail. The next morning, she emailed BIENESTAR to follow up, but didn’t get a response in time and had to cancel the event, Benne said.

“I felt there was a total miscommunication, and lack of coordination, in regards to last-minute requests for insurance, and to be added to our different policies,” De La O said.

People between 18 and 30 years old are the fastest-growing HIV infected group in LA County, De La O said.

“We allowed bureaucratic processes to get in the way of delivering healthcare to people that perhaps really need access to this service,” De La O said.