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Feb 28, 2019

Equitas Health aims to be ‘provider of choice’ for LGBTQ+ community

What: Equitas Health
Who: Billy Hardy, President & CEO
Business: Healthcare organization serving the LGBTQ+ and HIV/AIDS communities, with pharmacy and primary-health facilities.
Based: Columbus
Founded: 1984

Bill Hardy is the President and CEO of Equitas Health. This rapidly-growing healthcare organization seeks to be the gateway to good health for those at risk of or affected by HIV/AIDS for the LGBTQ community, and now also for anyone seeking a welcoming healthcare home. This expanded mission has enabled it to grow in the last seven years from $6 million to $85 million with over 400 staff in 17 offices across 11 cities.

As one of the most successful social enterprises in Central Ohio, Equitas Health has been recognized with more than 13 awards in the past three years, including ASPIRE Social Enterprise of the Year, EY Entrepreneur of the Year, and both the C-Suite and Champion of Health Care awards from Columbus Business First.

We talked with Bill Hardy about what has driven the success and growth of this social enterprise.

What criteria do you use to assess the success of your business?

This enterprise has two measures of success: patient health outcomes and financial impact on the larger company, Equitas Health. We use financial statements to assess the success of our business, looking very closely at prescription volume, net income per Rx and payer source, volume, etc. We always evaluate our work in terms of the return on our investment, keeping in mind the social ROI of such investments and what those business decisions mean for the overall benefit of the community. The health of our patients is the most critical.  Last year we provided 38,000 patient visits and filled 120,000 prescriptions. We succeeded in achieving viral suppression in 87 percent of our HIV-positive patients, who are now not infectious, compared with only 49 percent nationally.  Our pharmacy is high touch relative to other pharmacies, and we routinely do follow-up calls with patients.

To what do you attribute your success?

The 2011 merger of Dayton and Columbus Aids Task Force offices allowed us to combine healthcare with pharmacy in a way that has been transformative. Columbus had participated in the Federal 340B drug-pricing program but had contracted services to a third party.  By combining Dayton’s primary and behavioral healthcare program with Columbus’ pharmacy program for HIV-positive patients, we gained assured access to federal discounted drugs that made the joint program profitable. 

How has expanding your pharmacy operations enabled you to expand your mission?

Most significantly, the profits from the pharmacy have allowed us to expand our primary-health program to have a sliding-fee schedule that turns no one away because of inability to pay.  The pharmacy profits offset losses from charitable care and from our dental program and HIV testing and treatment programs. We are a “look-alike” Federally Qualified Health Center, but we have not yet been included in any city or county funding going to other local FQHC’s. Our pharmacy helps to offset that financial disadvantage.  The profits from the pharmacy also allow our medical personnel and therapists to spend more time with patients.  For example, one patient had been struggling with depression for years and had met with many health professionals before she came to Equitas Health.  She said “at my first appointment the nurse practitioner wanted to know my hopes and goals.  She told me there were options  It was the first time in my life a healthcare provider offered choices about a future I could actually imagine.”

What’s next for Equitas Health?

We have had a medical center in the Short North since 2012, and in 2017 we opened a center in the King-Lincoln neighborhood, which is both a healthcare desert and a food desert for its historical African-American residents and its emerging LGBTQ population.  We will soon have a pharmacy on the ground floor that will also sell basic groceries. We want Equitas Health to be Ohio’s provider of choice for the LGBTQ+ and HIV-impacted communities. We’d like to work to ensure that LGBTQ Ohioans have access to high quality, affordable, affirming care. To that end we plan to open additional medical center and pharmacies in key locations across Ohio and in other states.  We are exploring other business opportunities that can contribute to our mission and sustainability such as “white labeling” our pharmacy services so other health services can duplicate our model.

What advice would you give to other social entrepreneurs?

You can’t be all things to all people. Our historic roots were multiple AIDS service organizations focused on keeping people alive.  We had to evolve as AIDS treatment evolved and society changed. All programs that were done in the 1980s are now gone and replaced. We started with a staff of three.  Now we have 400. Inspiration is not enough. You need intelligence, obsessive compliance, and financial sophistication.

Learn how you can do business with local social enterprises, including Equitas Health, at