APLA health holds virtual AIDS Walk, plans new facilities


By Darlene Donloe

Contributing Writer

APLA Health, a staple in Baldwin Hills since 2013, recently held its first-ever virtual AIDS Walk Los Angeles fundraising campaign and by all accounts, it was a success.

“We did really well,” said Alex Medina, APLA Health’s communications director. “We raised just over $950,000.”

 The digital campaign ran online from July 1 through Sept. 13. Digital participants chose their “walk” from APLA Health’s three primary service categories — care, support and education.

The funds raised are a vital lifeline that sustains AIDS Project Los Angeles Health as well as other HIV/AIDS health and support organizations.

“The AIDS Walk pivoted to digital,” Medina said. “It was our first virtual walk. Since we had to pivot, APLA Health has also had to switch to telehealth, especially our behavioral health services, which is 100% online now.

“For dental care, we do an emergency only. We can now bring people in safely by having scattered appointments, and reduced staff. We take temperatures and there are hand sanitizing stations everywhere. We also clean out the rooms after every visit.”

APLA Health is a nonprofit, federally qualified health center serving more than 18,000 people annually. It provides 20 different services at 20 locations throughout Los Angeles County, including medical, dental, behavioral health and HIV care; PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) counseling and management; health education and HIV prevention; and STD screening and treatment.

The organization’s mission is to achieve health care equity and promote well-being for the LGBTQ and other underserved communities and people living with and affected by HIV.

Although they specialize in those specific communities, APLA also provides primary medical, dental, and behavioral health care to anyone in Los Angeles, regardless of income, insurance or HIV status.

Medina said the organization is committed to continuing the fight against HIV/AIDS.

“We organized the world’s first AIDS Walk,” said Medina, who has been with the organization since 2017. “Our goal is to continue to fight the epidemic and be a social tool to end the epidemic. We’re on the cusp of a cure, I think. We need continued political will and funding and coverage in health care. We want to create a community movement.”

Medina, 38, who describes himself as “an out, gay man,” said the AIDS Walks, which started in 1985, continues because there is still a huge need.

“The walks continue to be very effective,” said Medina, a Kansas native. “There is an epidemic in L.A. County that needs to be addressed. We have the second-largest epidemic in the country. The need is still there to fight and support and educate individuals in L.A. County.”

Part of that support comes in the form of offering people living with HIV housing support, benefits counseling; home health care; and the Vance North Necessities of Life Program food pantries; among several other critically needed services. Additionally, the organization advocates for policy and legislation that positively impacts the LGBT and HIV communities and conducts community-based research on issues affecting the communities they serve.

APLA Health, which currently has locations in Baldwin Hills, South Los Angeles, downtown, Long Beach, Mid City/Koreatown, and Fairfax/Carthay Circle, is poised to open two new locations.

Next year a facility will open in Willowbrook on the campus of Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science across from Martin Luther King Hospital.

“We’re happy to be in partnership with Charles R. Drew,” Medina said.

In 2019, Drew University and APLA Health officially announced plans to move forward on a new 10,000-square-foot building located on the Drew campus that would house a new CDU Wellness Center and an APLA clinic.

Once it’s completed, the university’s Wellness Center will provide urgent care, mental health counseling, and wellness programs to CDU students, faculty and staff.

Medina said the APLA clinic, a federally qualified health center, will provide primary medical care, dental care, and behavioral health services.

CDU and APLA Health have a longstanding partnership through the Drew Center for AIDS Research, Education, and Services (DREW CARES) and the CDU/OASIS Clinic, through which the Drew University currently operates two HIV testing programs. The goal is for HIV patients in the county’s service planning area 6 (Athens, Compton, Crenshaw, Florence, Hyde Park, Lynwood, Paramount and Watts) and throughout South Los Angeles, to have access to quality dental care and food assistance.

Reportedly, individuals in SPA 6 maintain the second-highest percentage of HIV/AIDS cases in L.A. County.

“I don’t have the exact numbers, but about 60,000 people in L.A. County are currently living with HIV/AIDS,” Medina said. “There are about 1,600-1,800 new cases diagnosed each year.”

Next month a new sexual health clinic is slated to open at the current Baldwin Hills site next door to the Gleicher/Chen Health Center.

“They will be able to get complete STI (sexually transmitted infection) testing and get connected to care,” Medina said.

APLA Health also offers drive-up COVID-19 testing, but only for its current patients.

“They are able to get results in about one or two days,” said Medina, who is most proud of “the deep roots we have in our community.”

“We were founded in 1983,” Medina said. “We made a huge impact at that time. Making connections in our community is important. Back then is when we began decentralizing our services. We didn’t make people come to us. We went to the people. We don’t want people to be overburdened to get care.”

“Making a Difference” is a weekly feature profiling organizations that are serving their communities. To propose a “Making a Difference” profile, send an email to newsroom@wavepublication.com.