South Florida’s top HIV/AIDS Resource Centers
Down in the bottom of the nation, South Florida’s tri-county area leads the charts in HIV/AIDS infections - and the response is just as grandiose.
SFGN picked the top HIV/AIDS organizations in each of the three counties that make up South Florida’s hub. Each organization, in its own right, is providing a helping hand to those it serves and each one deserves praise.
PALM BEACH COUNTY - Comprehensive AIDS Program (CAP)
It’s Palm Beach County’s oldest and largest AIDS resource, and - both from its composition of staff to the populations it serves - can deem itself minority-based.
CAP has three offices in the county, spanning its geography in an attempt to offer a close connection to its clients. But it also reaches out to the community, specifically with minority-focused programs, like Community Promise, which targets the Latin community and the Real AIDS Prevention Program (RAP) for the African-American community.
Outreach includes handing out pamphlets, offering testing on location and distributing preventive materials that might fight the spread of AIDS.
"We want to encourage them and educate them so they can stay HIV free," said Rik Pavlescak, CAP’s chief programmer and CEO. He explained that CAP focuses on proactive treatment, fighting to prevent the disease first, and then giving a helping and reactive hand to those who’ve been infected. "Once they’re in medical care, HIV is a lifelong chronic illness."
CAP offers individual case management in an effort to identify people’s ongoing needs of the real world variety, including items that might seem inconsequential but add up, like medical transportation or bus passes for clinical visits. CAP will help its clients with their health insurance, from helping unemployed people with COBRA to getting them access to medication through referrals and diagnosis.
"It’s a wide range of services," Pavlescak said, reiterating that CAP tries to help in areas that are otherwise ignored by other organizations. One such area is housing, for which CAP has a program called Street Smart. The programs offers tenant-based housing to those who need and emergency housing services for those who may have found themselves in a pickle, with five months to a year for clients that would otherwise face homelessness.
One of CAP’s crowning achievements is Found Care, a subsidiary of CAP that focuses all of its energy on healthcare for clients.
"Medical care and access to primary care is a much bigger issue than just for HIV people," Pavlescak said. He said that 28 percent of adults under 64 in Palm Beach County don’t have health insurance. "It’s very difficult for them to get health care. They end up waiting until they’re so sick they need to go to the emergency room."
Some of this healthcare comes in the form of direct care, like dental work and a working pharmacy. The goal is to keep adding services to Found Care, making it a complete and comprehensive care center for HIV-positive people.
But for the president of CAP’s board of directors, the goal is a bit loftier. Maria Vazquez said that her long-term vision for CAP would be to put it out of business by eliminating the community’s need for it.
"Other organizations, regrettably, have gone under. We’re still here," Vazquez said. "Based on our history, I would say the knowledge of what is most needed and the ability to provide the services - to have knowledgeable staff - is what sets us apart."
CAP was formed in 1985 by a group of family, friends and providers who kept bumping into each other while helping the AIDS community.
"There was a lot of discrimination. People who had HIV were kicked out of their homes," Pavlescak said. He said that back then funeral homes were refusing to handle infected bodies and dentists refused to offer them services. This stigma put the people trying to help in a unique place where they found brotherhood and sisterhood in each other.
Two years after founding it, the group got the funding they needed to open offices and start work. While the organization tightened its belt since, downsizing from its five offices to three today, it’s still serving about 2,000 people with AIDS, this year alone having served 1,800 already.
"Most of our clients stay with us for a long time, but we add a lot of clients all the time," Pavlescak said. "Our focus is helping people live and thrive - no longer to just help them die with dignity. Certainly there are people who still die with HIV and/or AIDS, but we do our best to give people what they need to have healthy outcomes."
"You would fine a home in CAP - which the staff often calls ’Caring About People,’" Vazquez said. "All you have to do is walk through our doors, and you’ll get that sense."
CAP’s service is free-of-charge to those who qualify. For more information, go to www.cappbc.org.
BROWARD COUNTY - Broward House
It started off in the Floridian summer of heat of July, 1989, by opening a facility with over fifty beds for people living with HIV/AIDS. Since then, Broward House has grown to become South Florida’s largest HIV/AIDS resource, claiming an astounding 13 locations.
"We never turn anybody away. If they don’t have money pay, we find the money," said Tony DeCarlo, the House’s director of PR and marketing. "Good people, caring staff. You really can’t find a better staff. We’re involved with our patients, we take ownership. We go out of our way to make sure everybody’s treated the way we’d want to get treated."
Indeed, Broward House, like CAP, offers people with HIV/AIDS everything they need, from housing to doctors to nurses.
"We’re a complete one stop. If someone comes to us for help, we have everything they need," DeCarlo said, saying that this fact sets the House apart from other organizations, who are still growing into themselves. "Once they’re in our system, they don’t need to go anywhere else."
Perhaps because of this, the House treats and helps around 6,500 people a year, not counting the 4,000 or so who get tested through them. And they’re not stopping there. DeCarlo said that they are expecting to buy a new property to have more space for both employees and the people they help.
"The letters that we get from past clients would make you cry," DeCarlo said. "Management is there to support the staff and the staff is there to support the clients - there to treat them like family."
Like CAP, the House was also founded by a group of people with a similar cause - fighting AIDS and helping people who had it - wanting to combine their expertise and create a hodgepodge of service that could help anyone.
Among its services, the House has taken upon itself assisted living facilities, substance abuse treatment, medical services with actual doctors, mental health therapy, transportation, case management, insurance help, testing, counseling, suicide prevention programs, and a myriad of other services.
DeCarlo said that one of the House’s new goals, toward which it is barreling forward, is finding a way to provide homecare to the clients who need it. This way, when a client simply can’t make the journey to a healthcare provider or one of their locations, the House will come to the client, eventually offering as much service as it would at their office.
One of Broward House’s distinguishing factors is its hands-on and outreach to the community. From award ceremonies to unique fundraising events like the Amazing Race, the House has really become, as it claims, one of the community’s most recognizable organizations.
Broward House’s service is free to anyone. For more information, go to www.browardhouse.org.
MIAMI-DADE COUNTY - Care Resource
Youngest of the three, Care Resource didn’t come into being until 1998, when Health Crisis Network and the Community Research Initiative combined forces. However, it claims to serve an annual 9,000 people in the LGBT community, which cuts close to being one of the largest in the region.
Care Resource may only have two locations, but it spans two counties with those locations in Broward and Miami.
Care Resource sports an institutional memory of the epidemic that goes back to the early 80s, though, through its parent organizations. Again, as with the other organizations, Care Resource was started by a string of volunteers who wanted to make a difference in a tough world of HIV/AIDS. Today, Care Resource claims it’s a one-stop shop, much like Broward House, in that it offers a similar variety of resources, from healthcare to financial aid, transportation to abuse counseling.
"One of our biggest aims is getting people with HIV into treatment," said Care Resource’s PR and Marketing Manager Joe DePiro. "We don’t turn anybody away who comes seeking treatment." Insurance doesn’t matter, he added, saying that the center will find a way to help.
The agency’s many prevention and education programs go out into the community and engage populations at risk of being affected or infected by the disease. Prevention programs target youth, men who have sex with men, the incarcerated, African American, Haitian, and Hispanic men and women believed to be HIV positive or at risk of contracting the virus.
Like Broward House, Care Resource also owes its well-known reputation to public interaction, including one of the biggest LGBT parties of the year, the White Party, as well as AIDS Walk Miami. The center also works with smaller organizations that promote awareness of AIDS and hold events to that extent. DePiro said that the center tests about 12,000 people each year, beating out the two other organizations.
"We’re seeing a definite paradigm shift predominantly from a gay male disease to an African American, Hispanic and female disease," DePiro said, explaining the center’s newfound focus on minorities. In the black community, he said, the infection rate is running at about a 49 percent, while they only make up about 19 percet of the population in South Florida. Within the whole country, Miami ranks number one in per capita infection rate. Broward comes in at second-place.
To face these numbers and give the communities it supports the help they need, Care Resource has four RVs that drive around Miami-Dade offering testing and resources for HIV, STDs and diabetes, as well as condoms.
One of Care Resource’s newest and strongest initiatives is its "Kill AIDS" campaign, which was born out of a University of Miami program called PhilADthropy. In the programs, non-profits apply to participate in a competition between groups of students who have 25 hours to create and implement entire ad campaigns. The ad campaign chosen for Care Resource was to focus on the younger generation, a new concern in the epidemic, but giving it a no-holds barred, rough look at the disease.
"No type of minutia around it," DePiro said about the new ad campaign to raise awareness of HIV. "That’s how this generation responds to things."
Care Resource’s service is free to anyone. For more information, go to www.careresource.org.