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AIDS and HIV

LA LGBT Center is open, shares inspiring story from Wuhan, China

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                                Triangle Square in Hollywood

(UPDATE 3/15) Perhaps it was the confluence of news that The Center in New York City was closing on Friday, March 13 due to the coronavirus, coupled with the announcement by the Los Angeles LGBT Center that it was cancelling its April 18 premier food and wine event, Simply diVine, but somehow the idea wafted up from nowhere that the LA LGBT Center was closing.

Both California Gov. Newsom and LA County have declared states of emergencies following the outbreak of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. But the Hollywood-based Center, with more than 42,000 visits a month and 700 employees providing free and low-cost services from cradle to old age, is too vital to shut down.

“We are making preparations for worse case scenarios but no, we simply could not take this kind of action,” Los Angeles LGBT Center Chief of Staff Darrel Cummings tells the Los Angeles Blade. “After all, people live here and get vital services from us on a daily basis.  People need food, housing, healthcare, medications and so many other services so closing entirely is out of the question.

“We may find alternative methods of providing some or many of our services and we can implement those changes as the circumstances warrant,” says Cummings. “We have cancelled or postponed events like Simply diVine and our production of “HAIR” but, of course, these are not essential services so they can be cancelled without causing harm or hardship.”

The annual Simply diVine event, this year scheduled for April 18 at Hollywood Forever, draws more than a thousand guests – but public health guidelines ban all gatherings of over 250 people.

“As this pandemic evolves, we will continue to evaluate and navigate what protocols are needed to ensure the well-being of our clients and community based on state and local public health recommendations,” says Cummings, noting – as have other non-profits – that the events bring in revenue that supports programs for which a demand remains.

“We have a responsibility to ensure that our services continue, particularly at a time when the need is so great,” he says. “As many of our supporters who have been part of Simply diVine through the years know, the care and well-being of our community is at the forefront of the Center’s work and is really the driving force behind the event.”

All events are now under scrutiny, driven by science, community response and Newsom’s public health directive, Cummings says.

Los Angeles LGBT Center Chief of Staff Darrel Cummings at opening of Anita May Rosenstein Campus in April 2019 (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

And, adds the Chief of Staff at the world’s largest LGBT-specific organization, the Center has a commitment to LGBTQ seniors living at Triangle Square and the 100 youth without a home at their Anita May Rosenstein campus – both at risk for the coronavirus.

“For us, the primary client concerns are 1) those who are healthcare patients and who come to our McDonald/Wright building for a variety of healthcare services, 2) our senior services which include residents of Triangle Square but also the many others who come to the Campus for programs, meals, etc. and 3) our programs for youth that includes our drop in center services and housing through our emergency overnight beds and transitional living program,” Cummings says.

“The good news is that we now have tests on site and are prepared to administer those both at our clinic site but also off site at our other facilities.  We have been providing, almost on a daily basis, the most up to date information to our staff and clients about the preventative measures they can take to protect themselves and others,” he says. “We have been following the guidelines for congregate care and living issued by the department of public health and the CDC and have plans in place for appropriately reacting to any identified case that we may identify in the clinic or at our other facilities, especially those in our seniors and youth programs.  We are prepared, as best we can be, to provide testing and any needed isolation.”

(UPDATE from Cummings: “We have been getting lots of calls from the community asking for testing. While we have testing kits on site, the lab has limited capacity so we are unable to provide testing generally at this point. Maybe that will change as capacity, etc. increases, but at the moment, this is the situation and I don’t want to mislead people.”) 

Center administrators are encouraging people (staff and clients) who are exhibiting symptoms, “not to come to our services and to call us or their medical provider for counsel,” says Cummings. “Obviously, we have masks and hand sanitizers throughout although these things can be in short supply so we have lots on back-order.

“We have established a COVID-19 management team that is meeting and talking on a very regular basis so we can act on or react to developments as they happen and are just assuming that the numbers of those identified with the virus will grow dramatically as more and more are tested.”

Darrel Cummings has a long history of healthcare activism; he’s pictured here, on the right, with LA Gay & Lesbian Center Executive Director Lorri Jean giving a tour to Clinton’s first AIDS Czar Kristin Gebbie in 1993. Diane Abbitt and Dr. Scott Hitt in the back. (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

Amidst the concern and developing of precaution plans, Cummings also quietly advised LGBTQ leaders in Wuhan, China, the site of the origin of the coronavirus, extending the impact of one of the Center’s least known but apparently highly impactful programs. Cummings says:

“The leader of the Wuhan LGBT Center is a graduate of the LA Center’s Chinese Emerging Leaders Program  and has done remarkable work, along with a team of 7 staff and many volunteers in Wuhan China, Hubei Province. When the novel coronavirus hit that City and province of 56 million people, activities of every kind halted and people were confined to their homes with only limited ability to leave for groceries.  Virtually all transportation was halted and no one was allowed to enter or exit the area.  All of this remains true today.

Unfortunately, the entire staff of the Wuhan Center was to arrive in LA in February to participate in a special organizational development program we had created but were obviously unable to leave China.  Instead, and as a result of the relationships they have developed with the local CDC and within the community, they were able to gain permission from health authorities to help make sure that people living with HIV/AIDS who could not leave their homes were able to get their HIV medications.

The Wuhan Center staff and approved volunteers travel each day to the hospital that treats those with HIV and that also now treats people with coronavirus to meet with doctors, get prescriptions written, pick up pharmaceuticals, and mail or deliver them to now 1,500 people.

 

Throughout this process the Wuhan Center consulted with us and identified barriers to this work as they arose.  The most recent being with the police who were increasingly stopping the staff and volunteers from traveling or entering apartment buildings since they had not been credentialed by police authorities to be moving about publicly.  With a kind of determination that is familiar to many of us, they were able to finally win approval by the police to continue their work.

 

In the epicenter of what is now a global pandemic that is provoking cancellations and closings of all kinds here in the United States, the Wuhan Center did not close.  They shifted.  They recognized a serious community need and they doggedly worked to make sure that need was met.

This is what we, as an LGBT community, have always done.  It is why the LA Center will not close.  Our friends in Wuhan who have looked to us for inspiration and learning are now inspiring, teaching, and reminding us of who we are and the value of being out and open.”

 

Cummings sent an addendum:

Haojie, our program grad and ED of the Wuhan Center, posted this just now on Facebook.  Remarkable.

 

Huang Haojie

9 hrs ·

截至2018年10月底,湖北省报告现存活艾滋病病毒感染者和病人19166例,受新冠肺炎疫情影响,湖北省内全部城市均采取了严格的交通管控和小区封闭措施,封城后艾滋感染者无法按时领取抗病毒药物,面临断药风险。

封城后武汉同志中心通过电话和互联网平台为艾滋患者提供咨询服务并收集求助信息,组建爱心车队接送艾滋患者往返医院就医,每天前往武汉市金银潭医院待超过8个小时帮助艾滋病人代领药物,为了尽快把药物送到病人手上志愿者需要连夜甚至是通宵分类和打包药物。

截至2020年3月9日,团队接待了超过4000名艾滋患者的咨询,成功帮助近2200名感染者获取了艾滋病抗病毒药物。

 

As of the end of October 2018, Hubei province reported 19,166 cases of live HIV infections and patients, affected by the new crown pneumonia epidemic, all cities in Hubei province have taken strict traffic control and district closure measures, HIV infected people are at risk of outage after they are unable to receive antivirus medicines in time.

 

Wuhan comrades center provides consultation services to aids patients via phone and internet platforms, forming a loving convoy to take aids patients to and from hospital for medical treatment. They go to jinyintan hospital every day. To help aids people get medicines on their behalf, volunteers need to classify and pack drugs overnight or even overnight.

 

As of March 9, 2020, the team had received more than 4000 AIDS patients who successfully helped nearly 2200 infected people access HIV medication.

Those wishing to support the Center can visit lalgbtcenter.org/donate. Updates on the Center’s response to COVID-19 can be found at lalgbtcenter.org/updates.

 

 

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AIDS and HIV

Governor Newsom signs HIV & Aging Act authored by Sen. John Laird

Sponsors of SB 258 include Equality California, AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA) Health, Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE)

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Photo Credit: Office of the Governor of California

SACRAMENTO – On Friday Governor Gavin Newsom announced the signing of Senate Bill 258, the HIV & Aging Act, authored by Senator John Laird (D – Santa Cruz). Senate Bill 258 will ensure HIV+ seniors are included in the definition of “greatest social need”.

“When I was the Santa Cruz AIDS Agency Director in the 1980’s, it was our dream to have people living with HIV live into old age,” said Senator Laird. “To be very clear, this group was not supposed to age. Governor Newsom signing the HIV & Aging Act is a historic moment for the LGBTQ community, and all those who have been affected by the HIV crisis.”

With the recent advancements in HIV treatment, people with HIV can keep the virus suppressed and live long and healthy lives. For this reason, the number of HIV positive older people is increasing. According to a 2018 California HIV Surveillance Report published by the California Department of Public Health, over half of the people living with the virus in California are now aged 50 years or older. This same report shows that 15 percent of newly diagnosed patients were age 50 and older in that same year.

Sponsors of SB 258 include Equality California, AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA) Health, Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE), and the Los Angeles LGBT Center.

Sen. John Laird speaking at PRIDE with the LGBTQ Legislative Caucus June 2021 (Blade File Photo)

Equality California Legislative Director Tami A. Martin notes, “After surviving the darkest days of the AIDS epidemic, many Californians living with HIV are now over the age of 50, but in dire need of support. Thanks to Governor Newsom, Senator Laird and HIV advocates, the Golden State will now make sure that our elders living with HIV have access to food assistance, job training, transportation or any other vital services. We applaud Governor Gavin Newsom for signing the HIV & Aging Act into law, making California just the second state to ensure older Californians living with HIV don’t just continue to survive, but thrive.”

“Thanks to effective treatments, people with HIV are living longer than we could have ever imagined just a few decades ago and now a majority of people with HIV in California are over 50 years old. Unfortunately, our current health and social service systems are not yet prepared to address the unique needs of this population,” APLA Health Chief Executive Officer Craig E. Thompson said adding; “Many older people with HIV are long term survivors of the AIDS epidemic. They have lost countless loved ones and entire networks of social support. They also continue to face discrimination and alarming levels of stigma. We thank Senator Laird for his leadership on this historic bill to ensure that people aging with HIV have the resources and support they need to thrive and age with dignity.”

“We must ensure that LGBTQ seniors have the affirming care and support so they can age in peace with dignity,” stated Laird. “It’s incumbent upon us to not force individuals back into the closet for them to access adequate care. Once again, I’d like to applaud the Governor for his continued support of the LBGTQ community and to my colleagues for making this a priority bill.”

The HIV & Aging Act received unanimous bipartisan support through both chambers of the Legislature and is a legislative priority for the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus.

Senate Bill 258 will go into effect January 1, 2022.

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AIDS and HIV

HIV & Aging Act sails through legislature; awaits Newsom’s signature

“When I was Santa Cruz AIDS Agency Director, it was our dream to have people living with HIV age into the senior category.”

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California State Senator John Laird (D-Santa Cruz) (Photo courtesy of the Senate of State of California)

SACRAMENTO —  The California Assembly passed SB 258, the HIV and Aging Act, by Senator John Laird (D-Santa Cruz), Thursday sending the bill to Governor Newsom for signature. The bill advanced from the Assembly consent calendar and received no “no” votes in either chamber.

Pending Governor Newsom’s final approval, California will become only the second state — after Illinois in 2019 — to designate older adults living with HIV as a population of “greatest social need.”

“When I was Santa Cruz AIDS Agency Director, it was our dream to have people living with HIV age into the senior category,” said Senator Laird. “To be very clear, this group was not supposed to grow old. While the drug cocktail transformed the fight against HIV, and there are more HIV positive seniors than ever before, older people living with HIV face a number of behavioral health challenges in addition to physical illnesses. By easing the burden of connecting this vulnerable population to supportive aging services and programs, this bill provides another life line to assist this uniquely disadvantaged group.

“I would like to express my utmost thanks to the sponsors of SB 258 for their steadfast partnership and the large coalition of supporters who highlighted the critical need for historic recognition and support of those living with HIV.”

With recent advancements in HIV treatment, people with HIV who take antiretroviral therapy can keep the virus suppressed and live long and healthy lives. For this reason, the number of older people living with HIV is increasing and over half of people living with HIV in California are now aged 50 years or older. However, older people with HIV continue to face unique challenges and barriers in health and well-being. A 2020 report by SAGE’s HIV and Aging Policy Action Coalition (HAPAC) identified that older people with HIV are more likely than their HIV-negative counterparts to have multiple comorbidities, including certain cancers, cardiovascular disease, fractures, and hepatitis C. Older people with HIV also face a number of behavioral health challenges, including rates of depression up to five times greater than their HIV-negative peers and greater levels of stigma, social isolation and loneliness.

“As a person living with HIV since 1983, I thank the Assembly for passing SB 258 – the HIV & Aging Act – recognizing older adults with HIV face unique and profound challenges as a population of ‘greatest social need.’” said Tez Anderson, Executive Director of Let’s Kick ASS-AIDS Survivor Syndrome. “For too long, survivors of the AIDS pandemic have been overlooked and forgotten. None of us imagined aging, but over half of all Californians living with HIV are aging and urgently in need of social services and programs which address our physical and mental health. I urge Governor Newsom to sign the bill and give us hope for a better quality of life.”

The HIV & Aging Act updates the Welfare and Institutions Code to ensure older people living with HIV — who are likely to turn to government and community-based services due to multiple comorbidities, behavioral and mental health issues and limited social support — have access to the programs and services administered through the California Department of Aging. The legislation is co-authored by Senators Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton), Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) and Assemblymembers Sabrina Cervantes (D-Corona), Alex Lee (D-San Jose), Evan Low (D-Campbell) and Chris Ward (D-San Diego) and co-sponsored by APLA Health, Equality California, the Los Angeles LGBT Center and SAGE.

“Thanks to effective treatments, people with HIV are living longer than we could have ever imagined just a few decades ago,” said APLA Health Chief Executive Officer Craig E. Thompson. “Unfortunately, our current health and social service systems are ill-equipped to address the unique needs of this population. Many older people with HIV are long term survivors of the AIDS epidemic. They have lost countless loved ones and entire networks of social support. They experience significantly higher rates of depression, anxiety and other comorbidities. They also continue to face discrimination and alarming levels of stigma. APLA Health urges Governor Newsom to sign SB 258 into law to ensure that California’s aging network is prepared to support the state’s rapidly growing population of people aging with HIV.”

“As the number of older people living with HIV continues to increase, so should our state’s commitment to support this resilient population,” said Equality California Legislative Director Tami A. Martin. “We are thrilled that SB 258 received overwhelming, bipartisan support in the California legislature, and we look forward to pro-equality champion Governor Newsom signing this timely bill into law. Older Californians living with HIV deserve to have the resources and support they need to thrive with dignity.”

“SAGE applauds California State Senator John Laird and his colleagues for taking action in support of LGBT elders and people living with HIV,” said SAGE Director of Advocacy Aaron Tax. “This legislation would update the Older Americans Act in California, which funds critical programs like Meals-on-Wheels, to designate older people living with HIV as a target population. As older people living with HIV continue to face challenges in getting the aging services and supports that they need, it’s time for the law to catch up with the aging of the epidemic. Everyone should have access to the aging services and supports that they need, regardless of their identity or HIV status. This legislation will bring us closer to that reality.”

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AIDS and HIV

UCLA Fielding School awarded $5.2 million in grants for HIV prevention

The grants will study the use of a variety of techniques – personalized, daily text message reminders; and individual and group counseling

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UCLA Fielding School of Public Health Photo Credit: UCLA

LOS ANGELES – A team of researchers co-led by UCLA Fielding School of Public Health epidemiology professor Dr. Matthew Mimiaga has received more than $5.2 million in grants from the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop and test interventions in the U.S. and Brazil.

The projects, funded by three separate NIH grants, all have the goal of reducing the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, through the use of antiretroviral medications for HIV primary (PrEP) and secondary (ART) prevention among sexual and gender minority groups.

“Whether used as PrEP for HIV negative individuals or as ART treatment as prevention for those living with HIV, antiretroviral medications are highly effective at reducing HIV acquisition and transmission, but its efficacy is highly dependent on uptake and excellent adherence,” said Mimiaga, director of the UCLA Center for LGBTQ Advocacy, Research & Health. “However, sexual and gender minority groups face specific barriers to PrEP and ART access, uptake, adherence, and retention in care. Because of this, we are testing interventions that are culturally-tailored to address the lived realities and barriers among these vulnerable groups.”

The grants, announced by the NIH this month, will study the use of a variety of techniques – personalized, daily text message reminders; video vignettes; peer navigation; and individual and group counseling – to facilitate access and adherence to antiretroviral medications among those who would benefit the most from its use. These grants will be implemented in Los Angeles County; Providence, RI; Boston, MA; and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

This will give the researchers a wide variety of data on how these approaches work for different populations, ranging from LGBTQ adolescents, ages 15-24, to transgender women, and men who engage in transactional sex with other men. Dr. Katie Biello, a Brown University behavioral and social sciences and epidemiology professor, will co-lead this work with Mimiaga.

“Our goal is to develop HIV prevention interventions that are highly scalable and sustainable in the real world,” Biello said. “As such, this work takes into account the future of PrEP and ART access, while simultaneously addressing the barriers surrounding access, aiding in navigating linkage to PrEP and ART care programs, and reducing barriers to, and building skills to support, medication adherence.”

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