Paula Van Ness has some concerns about going to work for a bureaucracy, namely the federal government, but she decided to go for it. So, on Friday, Van Ness will leave her job as executive director of AIDS Project Los Angeles for a newly created post as head of the national AIDS information and education program of the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.
"I have never worked for a bureaucracy in my life, so I am sure there will be some rude awakenings for me," Van Ness, 35, said recently at her office on Wilshire Boulevard. "In nonprofit work you can make major decisions quickly and implement them."
Bought a Condo
Although she expects to be traveling in her new job about 40% of the time, Van Ness decided to buy a condominium in the northeastern part of Atlanta, near Emory University and the offices of CDC. She currently lives in an apartment in Hancock Park.
"When you work in a job that is so consuming as AIDS, it's important to have a place to go home to where you feel comfortable and can relax," she said. "I'm not Susie Homemaker. I don't bake bread or make curtains. Life is too short to do all that. But I do need a quiet place to get away from the work."
Van Ness admitted she was more apprehensive about purchasing a condo than changing jobs. "Buying a place is scarier to me than taking this big job. This is the first time ever I've been able to choose things on my own," she said, explaining that she was divorced two years ago. "I'm having fun picking out carpet and wallpaper. My husband and I had a house in Granada Hills, but this is the first home I've had on my own. And it's on one of the most beautiful streets in Atlanta. The houses are all set back from the street and the whole street is lined with dogwood trees.
"I had pretty much decided Los Angeles was where I wanted to be. I like the life style here," said Van Ness, explaining that she had moved to Southern California in 1974. "I never would have searched out this position. But when it was created and Dr. Dowdle (Dr. Walt Dowdle, deputy director of the CDC) told me about it, I said, 'No, not me. I'm staying right here.' But the more I thought about it, it seemed tailor-made for me. But I didn't think I'd been in Los Angeles or at APLA long enough. In the five-year history of APLA, I've been here about half the time."
In a phone interview from his office in Atlanta, Dowdle said that until last fall, the AIDS information and education programs were spread over many agencies, but then the CDC was given primary control by the federal government. Van Ness, he explained, will be working with state and county governments and organizations coordinating the programs on a national level.
"Paula is unique," Dowdle said. "We all consider her to have an outstanding and remarkable ability to work with people and get things done, with everybody working together. She is such a national treasure, we really need her at the national level."
Dowdle said that the CDC has a current budget of $54 million for AIDS information and education. In 1988, its budget for that purpose will increase to $72 million. Recently, the number of AIDS cases nationally passed the 33,000 mark, and by 1991, the cumulative number of cases in the United States is expected to be 270,000.
A 'Natural Growth Pattern'
"My first love is prevention," said Van Ness. "I came from a background in reproductive health care, the Family Planning Centers, and I think it's a natural growth pattern for me--whether you're dealing with the issue of having children or protecting people against AIDS."
Van Ness, a native of Indiana, moved to Los Angeles after graduating from the University of Arizona and working with the Tucson Free Clinic and Planned Parenthood. Here she went to work for the Family Planning Centers.
"I had visited Arizona when I was about 13 and I liked the West, so I decided to come out to school," she said. "That was probably the biggest risk I've ever taken, to leave the safety of my family and friends in Indiana. But I'm really glad I did. I think it helped me build some self-reliance, and gave me an opportunity to really be myself."
Van Ness' parents still reside in her hometown of Marion, Ind. Her brother lives in Cincinnati.
In college, Van Ness majored in child development and family relations. "I thought I would be a kindergarten teacher. But then I got a taste of community involvement and relations at the free clinic," she said. "I grew to have very strong concern about children being born into families when they were not wanted. Even then the number of teen pregnancies was rising."
Van Ness joined the board of directors of AIDS Project Los Angeles in the fall of 1984, and became its executive director in October, 1985.