A West Hollywood community organization will take over operation of an AIDS clinic that served only about half the number of patients it was supposed to during the 21 months it was operated by the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services.
Answering pleas from AIDS organizations that began in April, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors this week approved an agreement passing control of the West Hollywood HIV Clinic to the Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center.
The Hollywood-based social service agency will assume control of the clinic at 621 N. San Vicente Blvd. over the next two months. Administrators said they plan to more than double the patient load, which has lagged at between 400 and 500, and to expand pharmacy hours, provide chest X-rays, and speed patient care by adding personnel and a computer system.
When it opened in May, 1989, the West Hollywood clinic was touted as a model program that would provide patients infected with the human immunodeficiency virus with drugs and counseling, before they developed the debilitating symptoms of acquired immune deficiency syndrome. It is the only program of its kind in Los Angeles County.
But the clinic, which primarily serves low-income patients, never reached the minimum caseload of 850 envisioned by health officials.
Robert Frangenberg, director of the county's AIDS programs, blamed the service shortfall on a dearth of qualified nurses. The facility was to be served by four full-time nurses but usually had only two or three on the payroll, according to a clinic employee.
But AIDS activists also said county mismanagement limited the capacity of the clinic.
"The AIDS-affected community gave up on the county providing care and decided to do it ourselves," said Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. "The fact is, the county and state will not take responsibility for early intervention."
Jean Murphy, the clinic's new program director, said the facility was plagued by several problems: three management changes in the last year, the lack of a staff member who knew how to run the clinic computer and inadequate plans for routing patients to the facility's various programs.
Frangenberg said those assertions were exaggerated or untrue. He said the takeover by the Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center should not be viewed "as an admission that we are not doing as good a job."
Frangenberg conceded, however, that the new management should help the clinic.
"With a community organization, we will have community support for the service and maximize the energy and resources available in the community," he said.
The Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center, which has provided health services and a clinic for sexually transmitted diseases for 17 years, was granted a two-year contract to operate the West Hollywood clinic at Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting.
The center will receive $2.1 million from the county to provide the services, with expected contract extensions if the agency operates the clinic efficiently.
Murphy said equipment has just been installed that soon should provide X-ray screening for pneumonia. The clinic pharmacy should be open next week for 32 hours, rather than the previous 10 hours a week.
Murphy said that as soon as possible the clinic will begin to treat about 200 patients who were initially diagnosed at the Edelman Health Clinic in Hollywood but had nowhere to turn for AZT and other early treatments.