AHF told to move its Condom Nation 18-wheeler from hotel

CondomNationAIDS Healthcare Foundation moved merchandise into its new Out of the Closet store today using its Condom Nation 18-wheeler. Then they checked into their hotel, the Holiday Inn on Harry Hines Boulevard and parked the truck at the hotel near other 18-wheelers.

AHF Regional Director Adam Ouderkirk said Calvin Hamann, the hotel manager, told them to move the truck by 4 p.m. or he’d call the police. After all, you wouldn’t want a truck promoting condom use seen anywhere on Harry Hines Boulevard, a street best known for prostitution, parked at a hotel a block from Parkland Hospital’s AIDS clinic.

I called Hamann, who seemed to know nothing about the incident, but he said he’d get back in touch with me. We’re waiting.

—  David Taffet

AHF to open Out of the Closet on Cedar Springs

The thrift store will also have a full-service pharmacy and an HIV testing center

OutCloset2

PREP WORK | Contractors are finishing up at Out of the Closet, a thrift store that AHF is opening in the former Union Jack store on Cedar Springs. (Steve Ramos/Dallas Voice)

 

STEVE RAMOS  |  Senior Writer

The Out of the Closet Thrift Store that will be operated by the largest AIDS research and treatment nonprofit in the U.S. is set to open April 19 on Cedar Springs Road.

AIDS Healthcare Foundation took the recently closed Union Jack store and has been converting it into a building that will house not only a thrift store but a pharmacy and an HIV testing center as well. It’s a business model AHF uses in Florida, California and Ohio, but it’s the first in Texas.

“We have been operating thrift stores for 20-plus years,” said AHF Regional Director Bret Camp. “They’re very successful, and they have become icons and hubs in those cities’ gay neighborhoods.”

While the community has convenient access to other thrift stores, pharmacies and HIV testing centers, Out of the Closet is the first to offer what some might call an unusual amalgam of all those services.

“I’ve never gone to a thrift store that has a pharmacy and HIV testing,” Warren Wells said. “I kind of like it because I know there are people who don’t want to go to other places to get tested. They’re afraid someone will see them going in there.”

Camp said the model is unique and is designed to build community and unity and to expand access to HIV testing.

OutCloset1

TOUCH UPS | A contractor paints a door at Out of the Closet, which is set to open April 16. (Steve Ramos/ Dallas Voice)

“Someone saying they don’t want to go into a clinic to be tested for HIV speaks to the amount of stigma that is still associated with HIV,” Camp said. “AHF is providing multiple options, which include clinical, mobile or the thrift stores. We need all those options to eliminate the gaps in the service delivery system.”

The thrift store will be open Monday-Saturday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on Sundays from noon to 6 p.m. Camp said six employees have been hired, and they have a truck that will be used to pick up larger donations. The store will sell clothing, furniture and household goods. Camp said 96 cents of every dollar earned goes back into AHF services. The pharmacy, set to open at a later date, will be a full-service one.

“Opening the store where Union Jack used to be is part of the rebirth of Cedar Springs,” Camp said. “There’s new movement coming in there and new energy. We as a community are re-establishing our epicenter.”

A few doors down from Out of the Closet, renovation continues on other stores. A juice bar and a florist are expected to open soon.

“Any kind of movement is positive,” said Tony Vedda, president and CEO of North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce. “The fact that Out of the Closet got in there so soon after Union Jack closed is pretty amazing.”

Vedda also supports the idea of an HIV testing center inside the retail store.

“People who have a phobia might not want to go in a clinic,” he said. “The fact that they have this thrift store model to fund and support their organization is good and smart. It’ll add some new life to the street.”

One block away, the Nelson Tebedo Community Clinic, operated by Resource Center, also offers HIV testing. Is it competition?

“We are anticipating that the people who are accessing testing in Out of the Closet are not the same population that is accessing testing at other locations,” Camp said. “We [agencies] all have different populations that want to get tested. We’re trying to make testing more mainstream. By putting it on The Strip, we can eliminate the stigma.”

Resource Center Cece Cox agrees that people should have choices about where to be tested for HIV.

“Given our 30-year track record and our highly qualified staff, people will still have a positive experience with Resource Center,” Cox said. “There are a lot of people who need to be tested. I know Resource Center does it in a very efficient, productive and compassionate way and has been doing that for many years.”

Cox added that having another place to get tested, such as Out of the Closet, might appeal to some people.

“It’s always a good thing when more people get tested,” she said.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 11, 2014.

—  Steve Ramos

Federal funding not enough to tackle soaring HIV infections in the South

The South is hard hit with HIV infection, but Ryan White funding hasn’t kept up with the shift

Ryan-White

PREVENTION | AIDS Healthcare Foundation is releasing educational posters they hope will get people to test regularly for HIV.

STEVE RAMOS  |  Senior Editor

Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series on Ryan White funding.

When Antonio Rivera moved to Sherman from Los Angeles five years ago, he thought he had escaped a life he described as “harrowing.” He’s been HIV-positive for over a decade, but he says limited accessibility to HIV specialists, counseling and nutritional programs is forcing him to return to California.

“I’ll be moving to Oxnard where my two sisters live,” he said. “I don’t want to go back, but I don’t have a car, and it’s not easy for me to get to the places I need to go. A lot of times, I miss doctor appointments because I can’t get there. That’s not good.”

According to Tim Boyd, director of domestic policy with AIDS Healthcare Foundation, California has 411 physicians who are HIV specialists. Compare that to 243 physicians who specialize in HIV in nine Southern states combined, including Texas.

“There are 275 physicians in New York state who are HIV specialists,” Boyd said. “You can see where Texas and the other Southern states are having a problem.”

Rivera’s access to physicians in California won’t be as restricted as what he’s experienced in Sherman, but it isn’t a move he wants to make.

“I’m poor,” he said. “I was raised in Los Angeles, and I lived in a really bad part of the city. Gang violence was high. It won’t be so bad this time in Oxnard, but I hate it that I have to go back there just because Texas doesn’t have the doctors California has.”

The shortage of HIV specialist physicians in the South is further burdened by a hefty rise in HIV infections. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, both the number of people diagnosed with AIDS and the rate of AIDS diagnoses (number of diagnoses per 100,00 people) is highest in the South (15,855 diagnoses or 13.7 per 100,000 people). These are the figures for 2011, the latest statistic the CDC lists.

“HIV infections have shifted to the South,” Boyd said. “Earlier prevention efforts were focused in urban and gay communities, but HIV is stepping outside those areas. HIV is now hitting a population that didn’t get prevention messages before.”

So, has federal funding of agencies who provide HIV services followed that shift?

“No,” Boyd said, “Right now, the South doesn’t receive an equitable share of Ryan White funds. As an average, New York gets $800 person, but Dallas and Houston get less than $600.”

The Ryan White CARE Act was enacted in 1990 and is the largest federally funded program in the U.S. for people living with HIV/AIDS. The act sought funding to improve availability of care for low-income, uninsured and under-insured victims of AIDS and their families. Those funds, $2.3 billion, contribute significantly to many of the agencies who provide services to people living with HIV, but the federal government hasn’t adjusted the allocation of Ryan White funds to address the increase of HIV infections in the South.

“New York gets a lot because the way Ryan White funding is allocated is based on HIV cases in a metropolitan area,” Boyd said. “It’s tried to move away from that, but it hasn’t caught up with how HIV is shifting.”

AHF is nudging the federal government to address the disparity in how Ryan White funds are doled out. In March, the agency announced the introduction of the Ryan White Patient Equity and Choice Act, a bill to make needed improvements to how the funds are allocated. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas, is one of the co-sponsors for the bill.

“This bill will help begin to ensure funding follows the HIV epidemic where it is growing and that Ryan White is better focused on ensuring more people get the care they need to stay healthy and become noninfectious to others.”

In a press release that addressed the bill, Boyd said, “Providers such as Medicaid and private insurance do not cover services like HIV care retention services, HIV medical case management and treatment adherence services — things that are essential to saving lives and stopping the spread of HIV. Moreover, these providers do not have the HIV expertise of the CARE act.”

Rivera agrees.

“The South is in the dark ages when it comes to HIV,” he said. “I think that’s part of why it’s become the center for new HIV infections in the country. I know this is the Bible Belt, and there’s a prejudice against gays, which is one of the groups so affected by HIV.”

Half of all new infections in the United States are in the South, although the region has only a little more than a third of the country’s population, accord to the CDC. The South also has the highest rate due to HIV.

Dallas is No. 1 in HIV infection per capita in the state, Boyd said, and there are many factors that contribute to that, including drug abuse, homelessness and using sex for survival.

“But we’re eliminating barriers and making HIV testing more accessible,” Boyd said.

If the federal government would shift more of the Ryan White funding to the hard-hit South, Boyd and others say they would be able to provide more services.

“Oh, my God,” said AIDS Services of Dallas CEO Don Maison. We’d be able to pay for food. We’d be able to pay for transportation for medical services. We’d be able to pay for medical case management.”

About 48 percent of Resource Center’s budget comes from Ryan White funding, according to CEO Cece Cox. If the South were to receive a more equitable share of the funds, she also would be in a position to offer more services to their clients.

Patients in the South, like Rivera, often live far from physicians who specialize in HIV. They can’t afford a vehicle and have trouble getting to their appointments, which might be up to 100 miles away. Once infected, poor people face hurdles that keep them from getting adequate care.

They often have no health insurance and little money for medication and tests. Blacks have been hit the hardest. They account for half of the men and nearly three-quarters of women in the South with newly diagnosed HIV infections, according to the CDC.

“A lot of gay black men in Dallas live on the ‘down low,’” Rodney Thompson said. “They live so-called ‘straight lives’ with their girlfriends and wives, but they’re having sex with men. In our community, a lot of people see being gay as immoral. It’s too bad because that’s one of the reasons the HIV infection rate is so high in Dallas.”

Thompson said he gets tested at least twice a year, but his family doesn’t want to know about it. As an out black man, he said he battles the prejudice against gays in his community.

“It’s about religion, I guess,” he said. “They’re just stuck on that. In the meantime, people are getting sick.”

With increased Ryan White funding, Boyd said AHF and other agencies can reach more people and offer more services.

“We’ve got to resolve this disparity in how the funds are allocated,” he said. “With increased funding, Texas and Dallas and Fort Worth can better meet the need of people with HIV. It’s hard enough for an area like Tarrant County to meet the existing needs of people with HIV with the funds they do have.”

Right now, though, Rivera thinks it’s too late for him.

“Not so,” said a Dallas AIDS activist. “While increased Ryan White funding would provide additional services, there are already many services available to him in North Texas, including free medical care, clinics and transportation that he needs to access. Even with their current budgets that don’t get the share of Ryan White funds we should receive, Dallas area agencies are doing a great job serving people with HIV.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 4, 2014.

—  Steve Ramos

AHF presents AIDS is a civil rights issue

Al.Sharpton

The Rev. Al Sharpton

The Rev. Al Sharpton will be in Dallas on Saturday for an AIDS Healthcare Foundation town hall meeting. The evening’s theme is “AIDS is a Civil Rights Issue.”

Among the panel members will be Dallas Councilman Dwaine Caraway and Dallas County Health Director Zach Thompson. Yarbrough & Peoples will perform.

The town hall meetings takes place at Agape Temple AME Church, 3432 Mingo St. Feb. 22 at 6–9 p.m.

—  David Taffet

AHF teams up with JR.’s to celebrate International Condom Day

love condom

AHF’s LOVE condom

AIDS Healthcare Foundation marks International Condom Day on Thursday with a party and condom giveaway beginning at JR.’s Bar & Grill.

AHF’s Raul Ramirez said he’s bringing red heart-shaped balloons to make sure it’s a colorful event. Everyone can get their picture taken against a backdrop with the organizations theme “Love is the best protection” and holding AHF’s LOVE condoms.

Every year, AHF distributes 10 million condoms around the world free. International Condom Day marks the beginning of the new condom distribution cycle.

Outside, AHF’s mobile unit will be offering one-minute HIV testing and those who test can “spin-the-wheel” for a chance to win up to $50 in prizes.

In addition to the party at JR.’s from 5–8 p.m., volunteers will be walking up and down Cedar Springs in “Love is the best protection” T-shirts handing out condoms.

Ramirez said he wanted to make sure people stocked up on International Condom Day on Thursday and are prepared for Friday — Valentine’s Day.

—  David Taffet

AHF opens STD clinic in North Dallas

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Bret Camp

AIDS Healthcare Foundation has opened an STD clinic at its North Dallas office.

AHF Texas Regional Director Bret Camp said the clinic is open twice a week to offer free STD testing. In addition to checking for HIV, tests will be given for syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia.

While Dallas has the highest rate of new HIV infections in the state, Camp said, Houston is ahead of Dallas with other sexually transmitted diseases. But STD rates in Dallas remain high and Camp encourages testing for them as well as for HIV.

Dallas County’s rate of chlamydia and gonorrhea increased while syphilis decreased over the previous year. Chlamydia was the most prevalent STD with 16,848 cases reported. Camp said these three STDs are all curable when caught in their early stages and much more difficult to treat if left undiagnosed.

Free testing is available at the AHF office at 7777 Forest Lane, Suite B-122 on the Medical City campus on Mondays from 3–7 p.m. and Thursdays from 3–6 p.m. To schedule an appointment, call 972-383-1066.

AHF has offices in Fort Worth and Dallas and is the largest provider of healthcare to people with HIV in the United States.

—  David Taffet

AOC kicks off 21st Tarrant County AIDS Walk with a casino party

AIDS Outreach Center‘s 21st annual Tarrant County AIDS Walk and Fun Run will be held Saturday, March 30, from 8 a.m. to noon in Trinity Park. Sign-in takes place at the Trinity Park Pavilion at 7th Street in Fort Worth.

A casino night kick-off party will be Feb. 8 at the Hilton Fort Worth, 815 Main Street, beginning at 7 p.m.

Volunteers for the walk and fun run are needed for set-up, water stations, path monitors, kids area, registration, food, vendor check-in and clean-up.

Anyone interested in volunteering should contact Mary Scales by email or at 817-296-0597.

In the eight counties served by AOC, more than 4,500 people are known to be living with HIV/AIDS. Estimates are that 20 percent more in the area are infected and do not know.

AOC was founded in 1986 by volunteers to help people with AIDS in Fort Worth deal with end-of-life issues. Today AOC stands as the largest AIDS social service organization in Tarrant County in the fight against AIDS.

Last year, the agency partnered with AIDS Healthcare Foundation to open a medical clinic at its facility.

—  David Taffet

Camp to become AHF Texas regional director

Bret Camp in the Bret Camp Dental Suite at Nelson-Tebedo Clinic

Bret Camp is leaving Resource Center Dallas to become Texas regional director of AIDS Healthcare Foundation.

“I will dearly miss Resource Center,” he said. “It’s meant a lot to me over the last 17 years.”

Last year, Camp left RCD to deal with B-cell lymphoma, an aggressive form of cancer. After more than six months of treatment, he returned to work with a clean bill of health as the center’s health services director.

During his absence, a new dental suite was outfitted and named for him at Nelson-Tebedo Clinic on Cedar Springs Road.

Last month, AHF opened its first Texas clinic at AIDS Outreach Center in Fort Worth. Camp will work out of the office at Medical City Dallas where a second area clinic is planned. The nonprofit organization is looking to expand into Austin and San Antonio and possibly Houston in the near future.

Camp said what attracted him to AHF was how client-centered the agency is.

“AHF provides cutting-edge medicine and advocacy regardless of ability to pay,” he said.

AHF is expected to open a clinic at Medical City to serve a Far North Dallas area that currently has no AIDS services and is one of the city’s hard hit areas with new cases of HIV.

 

—  David Taffet

AOC to host new Magic Johnson HIV/AIDs clinic

Gould expects new clinic to open in April, giving HIV/AIDS patients in Tarrant County more options for care

Magic-Johnson

Magic Johnson

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

FORT WORTH — Officials at AIDS Outreach Center of Tarrant County and the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, headquartered in Los Angeles, announced on World AIDS Day, Dec. 1, that basketball legend and AIDS survivor Earvin “Magic” Johnson will be lending his name to three new AHF-affiliated healthcare clinics — including one planned at AOC’s Fort Worth facilities.
The other two new AHF Magic Johnson Healthcare Centers will be in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Atlanta.

AOC and AHF officials had announced in late September that the boards of the two agencies had signed a letter of intent to develop the Fort Worth clinic.

AOC Executive Director Allan Gould said this week his agency is “very excited” that the clinic being planned here was chosen to be an AHF Magic Johnson Healthcare Center.

“It is definitely something we had hoped for, and we are very honored that the Magic Johnson Foundation and AIDS Healthcare Foundation trust us to operate this new clinic,” Gould said. “His [Johnson’s] name will bring an even larger degree of publicity to our agency and to the work we do here. And hopefully, that will open some doors that were not so fully opened to us in the past. This can’t be anything but great news for us.”

AHF is the largest provider of HIV/AIDS medical care in the U.S., and serves more than 100,000 patients overall in 22 countries. Created in 1987, the foundation generates its operating capital through its own self-created social enterprises, including AHF Pharmacies, thrift stores, healthcare contracts and other strategic partnerships.

Johnson, who was still playing pro basketball in 1991 when he announced publicly that he was HIV-positive, is chairman and founder of the Magic Johnson Foundation. The foundation raises funds for community-based organizations focused on HIV/AIDS education and prevention.

“Magic Johnson is not just an outstanding businessman and a sports legend. He is also a hero to thousands because of the way he lends his name to the fight against HIV/AIDS,” Gould said. “When he stepped up to declare that he was HIV-positive, he did a tremendous amount to help lessen the stigma of AIDS.”

Gould said the most important aspect of the new AHF Magic Johnson Healthcare Clinic at AOC is that it will “offer clients a choice.”

“I am not saying anything negative about JPS Healing Wings [HIV clinic] or the Tarrant County Health Department’s AIDS clinic. They do a great job,” Gould said. “But there are still people lining up at both those clinics every day to see a physician and get the care they need. Now there will be a paradigm shift in access to medical care in our region. Now those clients will have a choice.”

He said that the new clinic, “ideally, could see up to a thousand clients a year, once it is staffed. But I think in the first year we will see 400 to 600 patients.

What that will do is lower the number of patients going to Healing Wings and the public health clinic, and shorten those lines, that wait time. This gives those clients another opportunity to access expert, top-of-the-line, cutting edge medical care.”
Gould said the new clinic will occupy about 4,000 square feet of AOC’s facilities at 400 N. Beach St., and that it will include a pharmacy, as well.

Gould.Allan

Allan Gould

“This new clinic will offer medical treatment and prescriptions, regardless of the patient’s ability to pay,” Gould said. “That’s a huge element that we will be bringing to the table that has not been previously available” in Tarrant County and surrounding rural counties AOC serves.

Gould said AHF first approached AOC officials about five months ago, and that AOC officials “were really honored” to be considered as the site of a new AHF clinic.

“It is something we have wanted to do for some time,” Gould said. “Having a clinic has long been an integral part of our mission, and when we moved to our new location here on Beach Street, we did so hoping that the additional square footage this new space gives us would give us the chance to have a clinic.”

But even after they were approached by AHF, “we took our time and did our due diligence,” Gould said. “It takes times to figure out if you want to be a federally qualified health care clinic or go a different route. You have to look at all the parameters involved and all the different permits and licenses you have to have. It can become quite daunting.”

Even when they announced the letter of intent in September, he said, details were still being negotiated. That’s why when AHF CEO Michael Weinstein said during his visit to Fort Worth last month that he would love to see the new clinic open on Feb. 14, 2012, “our jaws just dropped to the floor,” Gould said.

“Even under the best circumstances, the process of getting [construction] permits and rearranging the existing offices — opening by Valentine’s Day simply was not feasible.”

Still, Gould said, word of the new clinic is already getting around and “We are already getting resumés for physicians who want to come and run this clinic, from nurse practitioners and others who want to work here.

“This truly is a huge event for Tarrant County,” Gould continued. “I know there are a number of community health care clinics in Dallas, but this will be the first one in our area that isn’t run by a major medical facility. The role that AOC has been trying to foster for some time is now coming to fruition, and that speaks volumes about the respect we have built up.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 9, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas