Rural AIDS agency to shut down

ARRT served people with HIV in 29 counties west of Fort Worth

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

WEATHERFORD — AIDS Resources of Rural Texas will close on Sept. 1.

The agency serves clients in 29 counties with clinics in Weatherford and Abilene. In addition to providing primary medical care, its programs include case management, HIV testing, a food pantry, transportation, prevention education and housing, utility and emergency financial assistance.

The closure is blamed on a cut in federal funding.

The closest AIDS service organizations will be in Fort Worth, but ARRT board members said that some clients have no transportation and many are indigent. And while Weatherford is just 30 miles west of Fort Worth in Parker County, Abilene is about 150 miles from Cowtown. AIDS services are also available in Midland, which is 150 miles west of Abilene.

Kristen Bradbury, who works at the Weatherford office, said, “We are very worried about our clients.”

She said that the Weatherford clients were better off than those served by the Abilene office.

Board members are not speaking publicly about the closing and will issue a statement next week.

About 150 people will be left without care in Abilene and 130 in Weatherford. Clients received a letter encouraging them to seek medical care elsewhere, but no suggestions were made.

Some infectious disease specialists can be found in the area, but most have little experience with HIV and some refuse to treat it.

ARRT began in the 1980s as an AIDS support group and incorporated as a nonprofit to provide services in 1993.

Rafael McDonnell, spokesman for Resource Center Dallas, said he doesn’t expect an influx of clients to Dallas HIV organizations. Distance is one reason, but also many grants that are awarded to AIDS agencies are geographically limited.

Fort Worth agencies and John Peter Smith Hospital may feel more of an impact.

AIDS Outreach Center in Fort Worth provides many of the same services as ARRT. Some clients who can get to Fort Worth will probably access that agency’s services.

David Mack Henderson is on the North Central Texas HIV Planning Council, which covers Tarrant County as well as the 29 counties serviced by ARRT.

He said that negotiations are under way with other service providers to make sure some services continue seamlessly.

“They provided an amazing product for the consumers who needed it,” Henderson said.

He said he’s grateful for the 60 days notice to prepare for the agency’s closing rather than finding that they had simply locked the doors.

Bryan King of North Texas Infectious Disease Consultants at Baylor had another suggestion for some clients of ARRT — looking for a drug study.

Clients are classified as either naïve or experienced. Naïve clients are those who have never been on medications before. In those studies, all drug costs, labs and doctors fees are covered. Experienced clients are those who have taken medication before. In those cases, only the trial drug would be covered.

However, he said patients are paid for their visits and often gas is covered.

“I have one who comes from Shreveport and he gets $100 for gas,” King said.

He suggested looking for trials at ClinicalTrials.gov. Under search, type “HIV AND Dallas.”

Some of the clients of ARRT have insurance and will find local doctors to treat them. If the regional HIV planning council can find other agencies and federally qualified health centers to pick up the services provided by ARRT, low-income clients without insurance may find care without traveling up to 150 miles.

ARRT was named a 2012 Black Tie Dinner recipient. Nan Arnold, co-chair of this year’s Black Tie Dinner, said this was the first time that she could remember losing a beneficiary because it closed before the event.

—  John Wright