OUR HISTORY

HISTORY OF LAAN

It was in 1983 that the first case of AIDS diagnosed in Ingham County was reported at Lansing General Hospital. While Lansing General’s staff had discussed the disease after reading about it in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, they found themselves unprepared for the first actual case. As no one in the area had any experiences treating AIDS, staff had to call other facilities around the country to get information on treatment for the opportunistic infections afflicting those first patients. Lansing General’s Infection Control Coordinator, Suellen Hozman, R.N., began educating the staff of the hospital. She was in frequent contact with both of the first two AIDS patients and was especially close to the first of them and began advocating on his behalf. Suellen began educating hospital staff and initiated outreach work with local civic groups and area social and medical service facilities. These were the first AIDS education programs in the county. Suellen saw from her relationship with those first two patients the need to provide emotional support and education on this new disease.

 

While local cases grew during the next two years, local service responses remained at roughly the same level.  Medical staff became more familiar with the treatment of AIDS, but there was still no meaningful community response.  In September of 1985 Diedre Baker, a Lansing State Journal reporter, asked to interview Suellen about her experience with an AIDS client. The client himself had given Suellen permission to talk about him after his death.  This article brought two phone calls to Suellen; one from Maxine Thome and the other from Doak Bloss.  They both wanted to know what was going on in the Lansing Area.  Suellen met with each of them and proceeded to mention at any speaking engagements she gave that there was a group forming if anyone was interested and that this group met at Lansing General.

 

The Lansing Area AIDS Network was formed in 1985 by Doak Bloss, Suellen Hozman, Tom McGuire, Beth Schaibly, Maxine Thome and others to provide emotional support and educational services for those whose lives were affected by the AIDS epidemic.

 

It was also in 1985 that the American Red Cross began screening blood for HIV infection (donor screening had already been in place, but actual blood testing began in 1985).  In the spring of 1986 the Ingham County Health Department contracted with LAAN to provide buddy and educational services.  Doak Bloss, helping to formulate LAAN’s basic structure and mission statement as well as organizing and recruiting for its first volunteer training program, left his leadership role in LAAN. Chris Carmichael stepped forward to join Suellen Hozman as LAAN’s first co-chairs, giving LAAN much of its initial direction.  Committees were formed and chairpersons were named.  Patrick Lombardi became the chairperson of the Buddy Committee and was responsible for training and assigning Buddies to persons requesting emotional support.  Under his leadership, LAAN formed its first support groups for people with AIDS and HIV infection. These first support groups were an important cornerstone in the development of LAAN’s direct services.  The Education Committee began presenting education programs under the leadership of Jo O’Connor.  Policies and guidelines were discussed and implemented under the leadership of Tom McGuire, who also offered the Newman Center as LAAN’s first headquarters.  For the first several years of LAAN’s existence, all meetings were conducted at this site. 

 

LAAN purchased their first telephone answering system and set up their phone operations in the home of Patrick Lombardi, who fielded over 300 calls during the first year.  This operation was eventually moved to the Newman Center, where a group of volunteers took turns answering and returning phone calls.  Monthly meetings were conducted and in-service educational programs were provided to LAAN volunteers.  During these formative years, LAAN relied solely on the efforts and contributions of those volunteers who stepped forward to mount a response to the growing health crisis.  But this grassroots, community-based response was only the beginning of a long and difficult growth process.  LAAN remains deeply grateful to those early visionaries who responded out of concern, dedication, commitment and humanity. Some of those other early volunteers include Don Worden, Therese Dawe, Bob Linstrom, Chery Oppenlander, Char Berry, Dennis Hartke, Edna Whittier, Jack Baker, Jim Huston, Jim Shewall, Jim McClurken, Larry Barnard, Linda Lane, Mary LaPorte, Mary Lodge, Paul Landen, Phil Boyer, Robert Peck, and Terry Stein.

 

As the epidemic continued to unfold, governmental response was slow and gains were made through difficult struggle.  The Michigan Department of Public Health created the Special Office on AIDS Prevention.  This effort was designed to implement the state’s policy on AIDS prevention and to provide and coordinate leadership and funding to local health departments and community-based agencies.  In January 1987, the Ingham County Health Department responded by hiring their first AIDS Educator, Renee Canady.  The creation of this position allowed the county health department to coordinate a broader and more effective response to specific educational demands and general lack of information on the disease.  The federal response came during this same year, when U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop issued his report on AIDS.  This report concluded that AIDS was a major health issue and advised Americans to take precautions to reduce their risk of possible exposure to HIV infection.  Koop also took the bold stand that efforts should be made to fight the disease and not the people who had contracted the virus.  This position was in response to and indicative of the political climate that had prevailed and had become unspoken policy, as well as in response to the religious crusades that had emerged to place blame on those who had become infected.  Surgeon General Koop stood alone in his assessment and remained an embarrassment to the Reagan Administration.

 

In 1988, LAAN began to experience rapid growth, expanding its services and gaining credibility in the community.  Renee Canady and Brian Mavis were elected to become the new co-chairs of LAAN.  They pursued a contract with the Special Office on AIDS Prevention to provide a continuum of care for people with HIV and AIDS in a non-hospital setting.  When this contract was signed, LAAN was in the position to hire paid staff to administer its many programs.  William Bathie was selected as Project Manager to oversee the development of operations, and Rebecca Martineau was hired as the first Office Manager to provide organizational and clerical support.  LAAN’s offices were moved to the Unitarian Church in East Lansing, and Lisa Jordan came on as Office Manager.  In May 1990, Carol Miller was hired as the Client Services/ Support Group Coordinator to provide coordination of services to persons seeking support from LAAN.  LAAN’s steering committee was replaced by a twelve member Board of Directors.  John Hall replaced Lisa Jordan in April of 1991, and in October of that year William Bathie was named Executive Director of LAAN.  Barb Schillo and Elaine Demps were elected to serve as President and Vice President of the Board, charged with the assignment of committee chairs and oversight of the Board of Directors.  LAAN continued to grow rapidly.  In February of 1992, Lisa Petrascu joined the LAAN staff as the Client Services/ Consortia Coordinator with funding provided by the Ryan White Care Act.  Spring of 1992 saw the addition of Patrick Lombardi as Volunteer Coordinator through funding from Ingham County. 

 

Since its beginning, the backbone of LAAN has always been its volunteer component.  Without this important element, LAAN would not be able to continue to offer the scope or quality of programs now available to those whose lives are challenged by AIDS and HIV infection.  LAAN gratefully acknowledges the contributions and committed support that its volunteers have given over the years.  Their contributions truly reflect the community’s concern for those challenged by HIV and AIDS.

 

Since 1985, the Lansing Area AIDS Network has been dedicated to providing emotional, psychological, and spiritual support to those affected by HIV/AIDS; promoting and advocating a lifestyle of dignity, safety, and quality for those affected by HIV/AIDS; facilitating the provision of additional legal, financial and other services for those affected by HIV/AIDS; and providing educational materials and programs about HIV/AIDS and its prevention.