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June 14, 2024 29 mins
iHeartMedia participated in the annual NRG Choose to Give Media Flag Football Game which benefits Children's Hospital, Philabundance, Big Brothers/Big Sisters and Nemours Children's Hospital.  I speak to Mike Rombach VP and General Manager for NRG Consumer.  .

The newly passed Philadelphia budget removes funding for syringes in needle exchange programs.  Residents in Kensington have complained about the proliferation of needles on the streets and the handling of the program by local nonprofits.  However Ronald Collman, MD, Professor of Medicine and Microbiology Director, Penn Center for AIDS research (CFAR) and Dr. Florence Momplaisir 
Assistant Professor, Division of Infectious Diseases, Associate Chief for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Fellow, Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine argue that this  is a misguided step that will harm not just people who inject drugs but the broader Philadelphia population.

I'm joined by Angela Giampolo, of Giampolo Law Group and Philly Gay Lawyer  for our monthly feature SpeakOUT about issues related to the LGBTQIA community and how they conect  to the broader community.  This week we talk about how we can be better allies.   
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Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Good morning, and welcome to What'sgoing on I show about making a difference
in our lives and our communities.I'm Lorraine Ballatmorrow. Angela Gimpolo of Gimpolo
Law Group and Philly gay lawyer joinsme for our monthly feature speak out about
issues related to the LGBTQIA plus communityand how they relate to us. All
Mayor Parker's cut funding for needle exchangeprograms, Kensington residents have complained about needles

on the street and there have beencomplaints about the organizations that handle the program,
but two experts say this will leadto a spike in HIV and other
serious infections that will eventually impact thelarger community. First, I didn't play
in nrg's annual choose to give celebrityflag football game for charity. These bones
aren't what they used to be,but I did come out to cheer.

I'm Mike Rombach. I am thevice president General manager of NRG Consumer and
I'm responsible for the East business,which includes Philadelphia, and we're here for
the annual flag football game, whichbrings together a bunch of local on air
personalities. But really the important thingis to benefit for charities. That we

work with here in the in thelocal area. So they are four teams
and four charities. Tell us whothey are. The teams are phil Abundance,
Big Brothers, Big Sisters, Chop, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and
Nomoor's Hospital. So we've got teamshere fielded for each of them. They'll
do a small playoff and we'll leavethe day with a victor. And the

good news is that nobody loses.All of the charities come out on top
and the winners will get a slightlybigger check. But by the end of
the day we'll give away thirty sixthousand dollars to the charities. Well,
although I am not playing this yearbecause you know, of an old sports
injury, I am here to supportand I was able to play on the

Children's Hospital team the last previous twoyears, and I know has been a
huge supporter of Children's Hospital. Right, Yes, we work with all of
these charities, but Children's Hospital inparticular has gotten a lot of support through
NRG. But it's really it's Children'sHospital and the reputation they have for themselves

locally. Because we give customers anoption of having us contribute one percent of
their energy bill that they pay overthe course of the year and opting into
that program. So we prime thepump, we make a donation on behalf
of that customer to CHOP, andthen as they remain a customer, we
contribute And we just celebrated recently thefour millionth dollar that we've donated to CHOP

through that program. And that isthe citizens in the area that know of
and think highly of CHOP putting theirmoney where their mouth is and donating.
Yeah. Well, it just sohappens that I am an NRG customer and
Children's Hospital is my charity. Yeah, so they got you in the early
draft bip for the team the lastcouple of years. Well, it surely

made me feel very good. It'sjust too bad that my terrible sports injury
is preventing me from getting out onthe playing field. But if people want
to know more about energy and alsothe kind of cool options that you have,
you can choose to benefit CHOP.You can also, I guess,
get some renewable energy options. Whatare some of the opportunities We and Energy

are big believers in and supporters ofa competitive market. Pennsylvania, New Jersey
have competitive markets for energy. Actuallystill the majority of states don't. But
since we are operating in a marketlike Philadelphia where customers have that option,
we want to give them additional optionsthat would set it apart from their regular
utility supplier. So the chop programand other programs like it, which we

refer to as Choose to Give,gives people a chance to while paying their
power bill, do some good forthe community that they live in, and
we give a variety of options likethat. We also do have some green
and renewable energy options. So really, whatever it is that you're looking to
accomplish when you set up your supplierarrangements, we want to give you options

to accomplish all those things. Thisis our headquarters for the East in Philadelphia,
and we have a lot of employeeswho obviously work and live in the
community, and we want to beconnected to the community in giving customers the
options to give back. Okay,and if people want more information about energ
and also your Choose to Give programNRG Choose to Give, where do they

go? They're going to go topick NRG dot com. Mike Rombach,
who is Vice president General manager NRGEnergy. Great, thank you so much.
Thanks a lot Lorraine's good to seehere, and I will be on
the sidelines with you. I'm alsonot playing what We'll be cheering on the
winners, because everyone wins absolutely.The Philadelphia budget removes funding for syringes in

the life saving needle exchange services,and we're going to be speaking to two
experts who argue that this is amisguided step that will harm not just people
who inject drugs, but the broaderPhiladelphia population as well. Joining us now
is doctor Ronald Coleman, Professor ofMedicine and Microbiology and Director of the Pen
Center for AIDS Research at the Universityof Pennsylvania School of Medicine. Doctor Florence

mom Pleazier, Assistant Professor, Divisionof Infectious Diseases, Associate Chief for Diversity,
Equity and Inclusion, and a Fellowat the Leonard Davis Institute of Health
Medicine. It's a mouthful, butI'll highly qualified to speak on this issue,
So I'd like to start out firstof all by talking about the concept

of the needle exchange program. ProfessorColeman, let's start with you. What
is a needle exchange program and howdoes it in fact help prevent AIDS and
others sexually transmitted in other diseases.Well, the needle exchange program is a
way of providing people who inject drugswith clean needles. The problem with HIV

and hepatitis C, which really area terrible problem in injection drug using communities,
is that it's spread by sharing ofneedles, and if you provide clean
needles, then it'll prevent transmission ofthese viruses from one person to another.
But at the same time, italso has some additional benefits. The ability

to get free, to get cleanneedles is a way for people who have
injection drug use issues to be connectedin with medical care and the other types
of social services that otherwise are reallyreally difficult to connect these people to doctor
mom plays here. I wonder ifyou can talk about specifically the impact that

you have seen according to studies andexamine of HIV infections and other types of
infections that are normally transmitted through needles. What has been the impact of a
needle exchange program here in Philadelphia.Yeah, And I think it's very important
for your listeners to understand that needleexchange programs or an evidence based practice,

meaning that they have been studied inmultiple settings and showed to be very beneficial
for multiple reasons. One is thatwhen individuals are using key needles when injecting,
they are less likely to be infectedand infect others with HIV hepatitis C,

but also or less likely to developown infections, which are very common
complications from injection drug use. Inaddition, as doctor Coleman mentioned, because
people who are accessing those services aremore likely to benefit from preventive care,
from mental health support, and alsofrom substance abuse treatment, they are less

likely to experience overdose debts. Andunfortunately, in the city, we've seen
a recent shift with the demographic ofindividuals who are actually dying from drug overdose,
and the now include predominantly racial andethnic minorities. And so the concern

is that particularly in underserved populations,people are not accessing preventive care, they're
not accessing treatment for their drug addictionand also for mental health services, and
by reducing the access to those programs, those inequities might actually worsen in the

city, Doctor Coleman, let's alsotalk about the larger population. Sometimes we
tend to think this doesn't really affectme. I'm not an intravenous drug user,
but in fact there are some broaderhealth issues that are related to the
impact of intravenous drug use. SoI wonder if you can share with us

some thoughts on that as well howit impacts the rest of the population.
Absolutely. So Needle exchange was introducedin Philadelphia in nineteen ninety two and we
were having almost one thousand new HIVinfections among people who inject drugs, and
over the next few years it droppedby ninety five percent. And that's long

before we had medicines that were effectivefor HIV. So ninety five percent decrease
over time driven mainly by needle exchange, and so there were far far fewer
HIV infections. So we know thatif we stopped needle exchange, we're going
to have a sudden increase in HIVinfections in people who inject drugs. But
the thing is, epidemics don't staycontained within a specific population. We learned

that from COVID. Of course,with HIV, it's not going to be
as rapid as COVID. It's notgoing to be as obvious. It's going
to happen a little bit under theradar. But there are absolutely sexual and
transmission networks that include people who injectdrugs. So we first will see a
takeoff of HIV in people who areinjection drug users, and that is absolutely

going to spread to the broader population. I'll mention something that maybe Florence can
elaborate on. Here in Philadelphia,we have one of the highest rates of
HIV in women. Twenty eight percentof people living with HIV in Philly are
women. That's one of the highestin the country, and we know that

those are largely acquired by sexual transmission. And this increase in HIV infections and
people who inject drugs will spread outinto the general population. I wonder if
we can also talk about another aspectthat may be an unintentional consequence of the
needle exchange program. I happened tolive in Kensington and my stepson went to

Conwell Middle School, so I droveup and down Kensington Avenue pretty consistently over
the last couple of years. WhatI did discover was the incredible proliferation of
needles on the ground and for thoseindividuals who live in those neighborhoods. There
is the complaint that in fact theneedle exchange program was unbalanced, that the

needles that were exchanged were in exchangefor a lot more than we're given back.
I think the contention is that awell run exchange program doesn't increase needle
disposal on the street, but wedid not see that in Kensington. I
think you're absolutely right that a wellrun needle exchange program will take in as

many needles as it distributes. Andyou know, we are not opposing the
idea of making the kinds of changesor making changes that are so needed to
improve the quality of life in placeslike Kensington and improve the quality of life
for people who live there. Sothere are other ways of improving needle disposal.

I would, at the same timemention that if the rates of HIV
and hepatitis C begin to skyrocket inpeople who inject drugs, the needles that
are found on the street are goingto be more and more contaminated with HIV
and hepatitis C. And boy,that sure isn't a consequence that we want
to have as a result of decreasingthe effectiveness of needle exchange programs. Well.

Wondering if, in your advocacy forthe needle exchange that you've been in
conversation with the mayor, because certainlythe evidence does show that needle exchange programs
do actually impact the transmission of HIVand other second transmitted diseases or other diseases
transmitted through dirty needles. What areyou proposing to the mayor? Clearly the

evidence shows that it does make adifference. And on the other side,
there is a community folks who say, let's do this better or let's not
do it at all because they've seenthe impact of having so many needles on
the ground. How would you whatwould you say to the mayor in terms
of what you would hope to seeregarding a return or a refunding of a

needle exchange program that would also besensitive to the concerns of the community.
That's the key sixty four thousand dollarsor maybe sixty four million dollar question to
be answered. How do we tacklethe injection drug use problem? That is
really a hard problem, and that'ssomething that the city is grappling with.

But what we do know is thatin the meantime, until the number of
treatment beds are increased to be available, and until better approaches are developed that
can help people enter into drug rehab, that we not stop the one thing
that we know is preventing not justthem from getting sick, but spreading this

disease into the broader population. SoI know the mayor has said that she's
not shutting down syringe exchange services,she just doesn't want to pay for the
needles. Now that's the savings ofnine hundred thousand dollars. It's not going
to be replaced by charitable contributions.And the problem is also that it's part

and parcel of a statement that saysthat this is not something that the City
of Philadelphia wants to support. Also, I guess so the other aspect of
it would be the cost to thecity of an increased rate of HIV and
other diseases related to this. Isthat right, yes? And I would
also see that as physicians, ourrole here is to educate and increase awareness

of issues related to health, andwhat we can anticipate with the defunding of
the STRINGE exchange program is that wewill over time experience rises in HIV,
HEPSI and other infectious diseases. Wewant the audience to be aware of that
increase risk and really be proactive atself testing for EAHIV linked to be linked

to care to be linked to primarycare and really have that heighten awareness about
their own risk. But I wouldalso say that as physicians, we want
to work with the Health Department,with the mayor and others to solve this
issue in our city because we're allinvested in the public health of our community.

It is a complex problem. Idon't think that there is a one
sided solution to it. What wecan see is that the styringe exchange program
is an evidence based practice that helpsreduce the rate of HIV, HEPS and
other infections, and we have touse multifaceted approaches, including increasing access to

substance abuse treatment, have programs tohelp keep the neighborhoods free of dirty needles,
But at least in our role,we think it's important to increase awareness
around this issue. If anyone outthere is interested in advocating for return to
funding for needle exchanges, is thereany call to action that you would offer.

We would recommend that you contact yourcity council person, communicate with the
Mayor's office, and let your feelingsbe known that while all efforts to address
the injection drug use crisis in thiscity are being taken, that we continue
to do what we can to minimizethe light glihood that those changes are going

to lead to a resurgence of HIV, first in the injection drug use community,
but then in the broader Philadelphia communityas well. And as Florence said,
for everyone to be aware that,you know, we sure hope that
we're not going to return to thebad old days of the nineteen eighties and
early nineteen nineties. But once anepidemic is out of the bag, you

have to be aware that it's goingto be out there, it's going to
be increasing be aware, protect yourself. Well, these are very good points
to make. And doctor Coleman,and I'm sure doctor Monplayser, I'm sure
you've seen the arc of this diseaseover so many decades, and we were
beginning to get a handle on addressingparticularly HIV with new treatments and new opportunities

to reduce the epidemic. But asyou can tend and certainly as the statistics
show that needle exchanges do actually work, the question is how do we make
it work so that all are benefiting, including those in the community. But
certainly it is worth having a discussionand perhaps a conversation about moving forward with

needle exchanges. I want to thankyou both for shedding some light on this
very complex issue, and certainly hopethat we're able to come to some policy
conclusions that will support needle exchanges,because we do know they work, but
we also want to make sure thatthey work in a way that also benefit
the local community living in these communitieswhere needle exchanges and drug use is very,

very high. Thank you both forjoining us here today. Doctor Ronald
Coleman, Professor of Medicine and Microbiology, Director of the pen Center for AIDS
Research, University of Pennsylvania School ofMedicine. Doctor Florence momp Lazier, Sistant
Professor, Division of Infectious Diseases,Associate Chief of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion,

and a Fellow at the Leonard DavisInstitute of Health Economics, University of
Pennsylvania School of Medicine. Thank youboth for joining us here today. Thank
you so much. You're listening towhat's going on. Joining me as she
does once a month every month,is the fabulous Angela Gimpolo. She is

the founder of Gimpolo Law Group andalso the blogger for Philly Gay Lawyer and
my go to person for our segmentwe call speak Out where we talk about
issues related to the LGBTQIA plus community, but also about how it really impacts
all of us. So Angela alwaysa pleasure and a special pleasure. Because

we are now in Pride Month,right, Yes, happy Pride, and
thank you for having me. It'san opportunity for all of us to take
a look at what Pride means,but also what it means for all of
us, for those who want tobe allies or our allies, Let's talk
about that. How can we bebetter allies? You know? I like
to talk about what everyone can doduring Pride Month, and in particular how

you can be a good ally toyour LGBTQ friends and family, and first
and foremost is showing up for yourfriends and family. It was wonderful running
into you at Philly and Pride.When you stop by the table, we
kind of ran into each other,but you were there, right, You
were visible, you were a presence, you had fun, You ran into
folks that you know, and seeingyou there as an ally adds something,

you know, where we're not justalways preaching to the choir, right,
but are our tips that everyone canfollow, And first and foremost, just
knowing that pride is a place anda time of empower, of empowering for
your LGBTQ friends. Right, it'sa place where LGBTQ folks own their authentic

selves. They can hold hands withtheir partners in the street, and they
don't have to worry, they candress in ways that they feel comfortable.
And so, first and foremost justrecognizing that it's not about you, that
it's a time that is specific foryour LGBTQ friends where they can truly safely
be their authentic selves on that daywhenever it is that they're celebrating pride.

Yeah, that's so true. Ithink that for me, pride means what
can we do to support freedom andequality for all of us? Because if
one group isn't free, none ofus are free, right, absolutely,
you know, and we're seeing thatmore and more with immigration issues, abortion

issues. You name an issue andit impacts everyone and LGBTQ ia two plus
you know issues. Everyone is reflectedin the rainbow. Right, So there
are black folks, LATINX folks,differently abled folks, neurodivergent folks, folks
right that all identify as LGBTQ.I A two S plus, so's it's

one of the communities that truly trulyhits on every intersectionality that you can imagine.
And so that leads me into tipnumber two, which is, in
addition to realizing, you know thatit's it's a safe place and time for
LGBTQ folks, also recognizing the historicaland cultural significance of pride, right like,

yes, now it's fun. Rightthat started as a riot, as
an uprising, as a resistance topolice raids. Right when you hear those
words riot, uprising, resistance,police rates, none of that is is
good or gives you the warm fuzzies, And that's really what Stonewall was.
And so just remembering as an ally, you know, the historical and cultural

significance of pride is helpful. Andthen also, you know, we kind
of touched on this is realizing thatpride is not just about gay people,
not just about lesbians and gay men, but the whole rainbow, the LGVT
qq IA two S plus right QQ, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual,

two spirited, and everybody that identifieswithin that rainbow, from pan sexuals
to it's really about visibility for everyone. And the last tip is really using
your voice of privilege that you haveas an ally, which we need.
We would not have gotten to wherewe are in our fight for equality without

our allies in every shape and form. But remembering to use your voice of
privilege beyond Pride Month, beyond June. I give a lot of talks during
June for companies and schools and whatnot, but I don't get a lot of
requests in September or in December togive talks on LGBTQ issues. So you

know, it's great that more andmore companies are reaching out all over the
country, not just Philadelphia based companies, but to do so outside of Pride
Month. We have these issues allyear round, and so if you're an
ally and you head up your DEIor an ally at a company, within
your friends, wherever, your positionof privilege is, to remember to use

it and amplify that voice outside ofJune, outside of Prime month. Yeah,
that's why we do speak out oncea month every month. It's an
awesome Yeah. Plus you talk abouthistorical aspects about Pride, and I think
that we just made some history thismonth with the largest Pride flag. This
thing was humongous and it was justmagnificent. And also the Guinness World Record

was broken with the largest drag astory time that was at the Constitution Center
and that was right here at theNational Constitution Center in Philadelphia. So we
continue in Philadelphia to make to makehistory, we really do. It was
an action packed weekend and there,you know, you can look online visit
Philadelphia has full list of continuing eventsthat are happening all month long. Really

but yeah, that flag was longerthan all of the Rocky Steps combined,
and we took you know, wentright into the street and then the largest
and longest drag story hour of youknow, that went basically all day and
they just said drag Queen after dragQueen, you know, reading. So
it was definitely a record breaking weekendand looking forward to all the rest of

the events all month. Yeah.Absolutely. And when we talk about the
drag story time, which some statesare trying to ban, we're really talking
about literacy for our kids, andthat is one of the fundamental rights that
a child should have is to learnto read at grade level. And having
a bag story time just makes itfun, It makes it enjoyable, right,

I mean, it actually increases participationamongst young kids in reading. The
statistics show and there aren't many funsort of reading hours that you can pinpoint
where parents and you know, firstgraders are going to the library for like
a fun reading time. It wascreated to turn it into a fun experience

for both adults and kids. Youknow, the whole intention behind it years
ago when it was created was onehundred percent around literacy. Still is and
it's unfortunate that that that has becomepoliticized. Yeah, and so again Philly
make a history. So unfortunately we'rerunning out of time, So give us
a couple more quick ways in whichwe can be better allies. Just to

reiterate those you know, recognize thatPride and Pride Month is about your LGBTQ
friends understanding the historical and cultural significanceof pride. Remember that Pride is about
the whole rainbow, the LGBTQI Atwos plus. And remember to amplify and
use your voice of privilege not justduring June and Pride Month, but all

year round. And lastly, Iwould say, you know an additional tip
is Pride is all about celebration now. While it was a riot and uprising
resistance, now it's about celebration ofwhere we are, but just acknowledging that
we still have a long way togo and a lot to fight for.
Last year there were five hundred andthirty five anti LGBTQ bills introduced, not

past, but introduced, and thisyear alone we're already at five hundred and
fifteen, so we're on track tobe at least over one thousand anti LGBTQ
bills. So celebrate, enjoy,It's always important to take the time to
do so, but remember, bothallies and LGBTQ folks, we still have
a lot of room and fight todo for full equality right and given the

current climate, now it's the timeto look at your finances, to look
at your wills, to look atgetting married. I know a couple of
people that are engaged to women areengaged. I said, you know,
like you better hurry up now becauseyou know, you never know a marriage
equality could be rescinded. You justdon't know. So apparently you are a

go to person for all these matters. If people want to get more information
about Gampolo Law Group, how dothey do that? Absolutely, you can
find us on our website Lawyer dotlgbt so just Lawyer dot LGBT and then
my Billy Gay Lawyer blog has abunch of resources and you can call the
office two one five six four fivetwenty four fifteen. Fantastic Angela Giampolo.

She comes to us once a monthevery month with our special feature we call
speak Out. Thank you Angela,Thank you, lored I'm always going to
be here. You can listen toall of today's interviews by going to our
station website and typing in keyword Community. You can also listen on the iHeartRadio
app ye Words Philadelphia Community Podcast.Follow me on Twitter and Instagram. I'm

at Lorraine Ballard. I'm Lorraine Ballardmorel and I stand for service to our
community and media that empowers. Whatwill you stand for? You've been listening
to what's going on, and thankyou
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