Gay, Bisexual, & Lesbian Faculty, Staff &
Supporters at Columbia University
|University Policy on HIV/AIDS
||Questions & Answers
|University Assistance Programs
||NYC HIV/AIDS Resources
The Columbia Gay Health Advocacy Project (CGHAP) was founded in 1985 to protect the health and civil rights of gay people on campus from the medical and social threats posed by the AIDS epidemic. Its staff and volunteers provide a wide range of services around the issue of AIDS and HIV infection. The Project offers peer counseling on AIDS and safer sex; counseling prior to HIV antibody testing; medical referrals for HIV-infected staff and faculty; psychological services, including group therapy, for people with HIV/AIDS; AIDS education events; help against harassment and discrimination; outreach programs; and written material. The Project is located in the Health Service on the 400 level of John Jay. Telephone: 854-2878.
GABLES, working with CGHAP, has established a group of employee peer counselors who have volunteered to assist colleagues with HIV/AIDS as they address issues related to health and disability insurance, sick leave, bereavement policy, discrimination in the workplace, or other employment-related concerns arising from HIV/AIDS. The volunteers, drawn from all ranks of the University insofar as possible, guarantee the confidentiality of all who take advantage of their services. For more information, contact Laura Pinsky, CGHAP, at 400 John Jay Hall, 854-2878.
The Ombuds Office offers informal, confidential, neutral assistance in resolving problems for members within the University community. For persons with HIV/AIDS, the Office can assist in situations in the workplace where alleged bias, stereotyping, or stigmatization occur, or where supervisory retaliation (real or suspected) is at issue. The Office can also recommend HIV/AIDS educational programs in units where such problems exist. In addition, the Office can assist persons with HIV/AIDS as they confront other employment-related questions, such as when and to whom to disclose a potential disability. For disabled persons, the Office can help to negotiate accommodations for changed workloads. The Office often provides referrals for sources of additional help. The Ombuds Office is located at 659 Schermerhorn Extension, 854-1234, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Disability services for faculty, staff, and students are coordinated by the University Office of Student Affairs and Disability Services. Persons who are HIV positive, have AIDS, or are affiliated with an individual who does are protected against discrimination by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Any questions or concerns regarding accessibility, accommodations in the workplace, or other disability-related issues can be directed to Dr. Lynne Bejoian at 854-2388 or TDD 854-6794, 305 Low Library.
For full-time faculty and officers, Columbia offers three medical plans (two indemnity plans and a point-of-service plan), a choice of five health maintenance organizations (HMOs), or a waiver of medical coverage. If you are infected with HIV or in a high-risk group for AIDS, you may want to eliminate the waiver as an option unless you are covered by a strong policy through your spouse, partner, family, or other group.
The point-of-service plan provides a number of financial incentives to choose doctors from a pre-approved roster of physicians but allows you to choose doctors from outside the roster, as well. HMOs require that you choose doctors from a pre-approved roster. GABLES has worked with CGHAP to create from the various rosters a list of doctors who specialize in HIV/AIDS. For more information, contact the Columbia Gay Health Advocacy Project or visit a GABLES Peer Counselor (see related section above). The two indemnity plans allow you to choose your own doctors.
Given that many individuals with HIV/AIDS find that they experience periods of anxiety and depression, it is important to note that the point-of-service plan provides for more liberal mental-health benefits than either of the indemnity plans.
If you are a union employee, check with the Benefits Office or your local union representative for health-benefits information. Each union offers a different plan.
Long-term disability insurance is designed to provide income to individuals who are unable to work because of illness or injury. The decision to apply for long-term disability insurance is one of the most critical you may ever make; discuss it carefully with your doctor, and, if you wish, with the Ombudsperson, CGHAP counselors, or GABLES peer counselors.
Long-term disability insurance for officers (including faculty) is provided free of charge under the University's Basic Plan. For a monthly premium, the University also offers an Optional Plan, which offers a number of desirable benefits, including a conversion option should you choose to leave Columbia for any reason. The Optional Plan is even more advantageous for officers earning over $50,000. Note that if you are an employee at Columbia and have not signed on for the Optional Plan, you could encounter difficulties in obtaining the enhanced coverage. The plan states: "You will be insured without medical certification if you enroll in the Optional Plan within 31 days after you become eligible [usually your employment date]. Delayed enrollment requires evidence of insurability provided at your expense and is subject to acceptance by the Insurance Company."
Both plans include a pre-existing condition limitation: "The Insurance Company will not pay monthly benefits for any period during the first 12 months after the effective date of coverage if the Disability is due to illness or disease for which the employee received treatment during the 3 months immediately prior to the effective date of his coverage under the Plan [usually your employment date]; this limitation is not applicable after the employee has been covered under the Plan for 12 months." For new employees, it is important to note that, if you have received treatment for HIV in the three months prior to employment at Columbia, you are ineligible for disability until 12 months after your hire date. For officers, Columbia also offers 100% salary continuation for the first six months of disability.
If you are a union employee, check with the Benefits Office or your local union representative for disability-insurance information. Each union offers a different plan.
Q. I'm worried that I may be infected with HIV. How
do I go about getting tested?
A. To get tested at Columbia, you may either a) call 854-2878 and ask to make an appointment with an advocate for counseling prior to the test, or b) call 854-2284 and ask to make an appointment with an ambulatory care nurse for the counseling. In either case, the blood is drawn at the Health Service and is taken by a volunteer to the City Lab for anonymous testing. Results are usually back in about two weeks. You can also be tested anonymously (and free of charge) through the New York City Department of Health, 447-8200. Some private physicians also arrange HIV-antibody testing, which is confidential, not anonymous. Arrange for testing only with a physician whom you trust to guard your confidentiality.
Q. I just found out that I am HIV positive. What should
A. Expert medical care for HIV-disease can extend the period of healthy functioning, perhaps indefinitely. You need to find a physician knowledgeable about HIV disease, have your immune system monitored through blood tests, and consider various medications to slow the virus and prevent opportunistic infections. We encourage you to call Laura Pinsky at CGHAP, 854-2878, who can give you more detailed information and refer you to HIV-expert physicians.
Q. Should I tell my supervisor and co-workers my HIV
A. The decision of when and what to tell people about your HIV status is one that you will want to approach carefully. People who are HIV positive often lead healthy and productive lives for many years. CGHAP and the Columbia Ombuds Office can offer confidential advice in making such a decision.
Q. My colleagues suspect that I am HIV positive and
are doing things like cleaning anything I touch with disinfectant. What can
I do to stop this?
A. This sort of stigmatization is clearly in violation of Columbia's non-discriminatory policies. First, call the matter to the attention of your supervisor. If the behavior persists, contact your union representative (if appropriate), your personnel officer, CGHAP, or the Ombuds Office.
Q. I was recently hospitalized with pneumonia and diagnosed
with AIDS. Should I explore disability leave?
A. Not necessarily. After an initial illness, persons with AIDS often continue to lead healthy, productive lives. Disability leaves are available to individuals who are unable to perform the duties and responsibilities of their jobs. Even if you should become physically impaired, you may be able to continue to work at Columbia through an accommodation for a changed workload or schedule. In any case, this decision should be thought out carefully with your doctor, your supervisor, your personnel officer, and with other appropriate counselors on campus (such as CGHAP representatives and the Ombuds Officer).
Q. My domestic partner is extremely ill and, as his
primary caregiver, I will need to take time off to care for him. What leave
arrangements are available to me?
A. You are entitled to use your vacation accrual for this purpose, and, depending upon your job responsibilities, you may be able to take unpaid leave. Talk with your supervisor, personnel director, or the Ombuds Office.
Q. I've had unprotected vaginal sex with men in the
past few years. Am I at risk of AIDS?
A. If you are concerned about your HIV status, you should consider HIV antibody testing. The incidence of vAIDS among women is growing rapidly. AIDS is now the leading cause of death of all women age 30-34 in New York City (though most of these cases have a primary or secondary drug connection). In the future, you can protect yourself by using condoms.
Q. I've just learned that I'm HIV positive and find
that I'm having trouble concentrating and feel tired and anxious. Is this normal?
A. You can be expected to feel anxious or depressed when you find out that you are HIV-infected. Most people feel better after a few months, although periods of stress, anxiety, and depression, often come and go. Help and support can ease any sense of crisis. Support groups are an excellent source of assistance. On campus, CGHAP offers a support group open to staff; another on-site resource is the Health Service's HIV Clinic, which is available to consult with and which sees employees as well as students. Individual therapy may also be helpful, especially if the anxiety or depression is severe, long-lasting, or causing you to act in a self-destructive way, e.g., suicidal thoughts, unsafe sex, heavy drinking, or ignoring medical care. You may want to consult GMHC or the PWA Coalition Hotline (see the last page of this brochure) for additional assistance.
Q. My family didn't even know my 31-year-old brother
was gay until he told us he has AIDS. It's dividing and hurting my family, and
I can't concentrate at work. Is there anything I can do?
A. Yes. AIDS affects many more people than those it afflicts directly. Many of the offices and organizations listed in this brochure have additional programs and support services directed toward family members of those with HIV/AIDS, and we strongly urge you to take advantage of them. For the person with AIDS, support of family and friends is vital.
The following campus-based information sources are available to help those concerned about HIV/AIDS:
Columbia Gay Health Advocacy Project
|400 John Jay
|GABLES Peer Counselors
||400 John Jay
|Columbia Office of Health Education
||520 W. 114th St., Apt. 2
Columbia Ombuds Office
|659 Schermerhorn Extension
|Office for Disabled Student/Employee
|305 Low Library
|AIDS In-Patient Unit
||Dept. of Medicine, AIDS
Unit HP 516
NYC Dept. of Health AIDS Hotline
|Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC) Hotline
|GMHC Ombudsman (Health Care Problems)
|People with AIDS (PWA) Coalition Hotline
All resources below are free except where noted.
Last revision: 03/13/00