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COVER STORY : Closing the Gap in AIDS Care

August 20, 1992|RICHARD CORE

Increasing awareness of the spread of AIDS and need for services is giving those facing the disease in North County new hope for finding emotional support and medical care closer to home.

It has long been necessary for those with acquired immune deficiency syndrome to travel to San Diego for many needed services.

As Lee Berchak, a North County medical social worker, put it: "We're kind of out in the boonies in terms of services."

In recent months, though, efforts to improve care in North County for the men and women diagnosed with the disease and those close to them have met with some success. But, despite the advances, much remains available only at a distance.

Among the realities:

* People diagnosed with the AIDS virus who need caseworkers to guide them through the required procedures and support services can wait as long as two months at health or social service agencies in North County. Some give up and go to San Diego where the wait may be only a few days.

* Until the last few months, those with the AIDS virus, their families and friends throughout North County had just one support group, in Vista, where they could meet to discuss the traumatic change in their lives. Recently, four new groups have been added.

* People needing free AIDS drugs through a federal program had to travel to the county's only dispensary near the San Diego Sports Arena. That will change next month when the Vista Community Clinic begins dispensing the medications.

* For those in advanced stages of AIDS who cannot live on their own, there is a residential care facility, Fraternity House in Oceanside. The tract house in a new subdivision has room for nine residents.

* No publicly funded medical facilities in North County have physicians who deal entirely with AIDS cases. Specialty care still requires trips to San Diego clinics.

* Hot-meal delivery programs, food banks, legal services, information services for people with AIDS--all available in San Diego--have been absent in North County.

* Despite the need for trips to San Diego, transportation services have been limited to a single van provided by the San Diego AIDS Foundation, often forced to take a lengthy, serpentine route to pick up and deliver its passengers.

Although health officials do not know how many men and women are infected with the AIDS virus, there is agreement that the impact of the disease will be increasingly felt in North County.

Authorities estimate that from 25,000 to 30,000 people in San Diego County test positive for the human immunodeficiency virus. They say perhaps 10% of these live in North County.

In the last 10 years, according to county Department of Health Services figures, 255 of the county's 3,067 people diagnosed with AIDS lived in North County--about 8%.

Of the 255 cases, roughly 100 North County residents still survive, said Binnie Callender, chief of the county's Office of AIDS Coordination.

The region's primary AIDS medical facility, the Vista Community Clinic, draws clientele from Carlsbad to Ramona. The clinic currently has 85 active cases of people diagnosed with the AIDS virus, up from 50 last year. Three-quarters of the victims are men, one-quarter are women.

Several factors influence the statistics for the area: They do not include people who live in North County but within the San Diego city limits, or those who have moved to be closer to services in San Diego or elsewhere.

New services becoming available in North County are due in great measure to the efforts of a Solana Beach couple, Mary Jane and Roger Boyd.

They are working to serve as advocates for those with AIDS under the name North County Community AIDS Partnership. Among the goals of the nonprofit partnership is raising funds in North County to help those who live in North County better deal with their illness, Roger Boyd said.

The Boyds formed the partnership after the San Diego AIDS Foundation, citing a shortage of money, closed its one-person office in Vista.

Roger Boyd is a retired electronics company engineer. He resigned his position on the AIDS Foundation board to start the partnership. His wife, whose nephew died of AIDS last year, is a nurse at a hospice. She also was on the board of directors of Fraternity House.

"We saw need for more services," Roger Boyd said. "People living in suburban and rural areas should not be forced to move downtown."

One of the couple's first moves was to improve coordination among the members of the North County AIDS Coalition, a networking organization of agencies providing services for those with AIDS. The revived group now meets once a month at Palomar Medical Center in Escondido, Tri-City Medical Center in Oceanside or Scripps Memorial Hospital in Encinitas.

At a recent meeting, members of the coalition heard stories of frustration from individuals with AIDS.

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