APLA Health and Wellness is bringing a fresh approach to health care in Long Beach.
APLA provides health care and HIV/AIDS education and prevention services with a focus on serving lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders and people living with limited income. In February, the organization opened a Health and Wellness Center on the St. Mary Medical Center campus.
APLA will share the same floor with another nonprofit that serves people living with HIV/AIDS, the Comprehensive AIDS Resource and Education, C.A.R.E. Program. For more than 30 years C.A.R.E has provided health services for individuals and families living with HIV/AIDS. The majority of its clients are also low-income. According to C.A.R.E., in 2015, it served more than 1,000 blacks and Latinos.
Although both facilities provide HIV/AIDS-related health care, each fulfills a distinct role.
“The use of primary care as a means of HIV prevention is sorely needed,” said Miguel Gutierrez, the APLA director of health care operations in South Los Angeles County. “That will be the APLA center’s main strategy in Long Beach.”
The rest of the APLA center’s strategy will include HIV testing, evaluations to receive Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, STD screening and treatment, and assistance with health insurance enrollment.
Employees of the C.A.R.E Program underscored that their clinic has an extensive amount of specialized services designed to improve the lives of HIV-positive patients. The program offers HIV medical and dental care, psychiatric and hepatitis-C treatment, counseling and case management, and a food bank.
APLA and C.A.R.E. Program also differ in their funding. The C.A.R.E. Program is funded by grants from the county, federal and state governments, and private donations. APLA also receives grants and private contributions; however in addition, the APLA is a federally-qualified health center, FQHC. With FQHC status, APLA collects increased reimbursements for caring for underserved patients covered under Medicare or Medicaid. Being an FQHC is highly beneficial for health clinics serving these types of patients, because it has historically not been easy to collect these payments.
“Not every [health clinic] has the same grants, and our FQHC funding is helping the APLA complement the other clinics in the community,” Gutierrez said.
The Long Beach Health Center and the C.A.R.E. Program agree that being on the same campus will be convenient for people seeking HIV/AIDS care, especially if people aren’t sure which clinic would meet their needs. Both clinics will make it clear that the APLA is better suited to treat the causes of HIV/AIDS, while C.A.R.E. Program is better suited to treat the effects of HIV/AIDS.
“We [The Long Beach Health Center] have already begun referring HIV-positive patients to C.A.R.E. We have a great deal of respect for them,” Gutierrez said.
Multiple attempts were made to get an official statement from Dignity Health, which owns St. Mary’s Medical Center, regarding any formal collaboration with the APLA center. Dignity Health did not respond by press time.
The APLA center’s own collaboration efforts extend beyond the C.A.R.E. Program.
“Providing excellent culturally competent care is a community effort, and we are working with other key partners,” said Craig E. Thompson, the chief executive officer of APLA Health & Wellness. Specifically the APLA is collaborating with the Children’s Clinic, The Center and the Long Beach Health Department.
“We are making the effort to engage the community,” Gutierrez said. “It takes time, but we’ve been well-received so far.”
The APLA center’s facilities include an exam room, a treatment room and staff space. Operating hours are from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1 to 5 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The center will expand in the coming months. Once additional construction is complete, there will be a laboratory and phlebotomy room, counseling rooms, a four-chair dental clinic and more space for patient reception and staff. Patients interested in Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, PrEP, will need to be evaluated with a counselor before the medication is approved for them. The center is expected to be able to serve about 4,000 patients per year. Services are free or on a low-cost, sliding-fee scale.