NORTH HOLLYWOOD — A joint public-private effort to treat AIDS patients in the San Fernando Valley will employ revolutionary advances in the war on the deadly disease and try to set the course for similar action nationally, a team of doctors and health care providers said Wednesday.
A largely publicly funded clinic and a nationally acclaimed AIDS expert have joined to operate a new, expanded program to treat people with AIDS or HIV--and in the process bail out the Valley's largest AIDS care clinic, which was due to close this month because of a funding shortage.
The joint effort is designed to reduce costs through consolidation while increasing effectiveness of care through the latest in AIDS treatments, which could "nip new HIV infections in the bud," said Michael Gottlieb, the physician who in 1981 gave AIDS its name while on the faculty of UCLA.
On Oct. 7, Gottlieb will combine his private practice in Sherman Oaks with the AIDS Healthcare Foundation clinic, also in Sherman Oaks, by moving into new offices in North Hollywood. The foundation's clinic had been scheduled to close this month for lack of funds.
The consolidated program will serve a combined total of 800 patients at a medical plaza under construction at 12660 Riverside Drive.
Gottlieb said the clinic will use major advances in treatment announced this year in which patients are given a combination of three medicines, including one from a new class of drugs called protease inhibitors, which help stabilize immune system damage.
"AIDS care has just been revolutionized with the triple therapy," said Dr. Charles Farthing, the foundation's medical director.
He said that keeping the clinic in the Valley within close proximity to patients is important to the success of the treatment program, which requires regular follow-up. Many of the almost 500 AIDS Healthcare Foundation patients in the Valley would have had to travel to other clinics outside the Valley if the Sherman Oaks program ceased, foundation officials said.
"The travel issue is a very difficult one," Gottlieb said. By combining services to privately insured patients and low-income patients, both "will receive state-of-the-art technology and care in their own neighborhood," Gottlieb said.
Foundation President Michael Weinstein said lower costs through shared expenses could allow the combined enterprise to enhance and expand services to HIV and AIDS patients. "There will be no interruption in service to our clients and we will stretch the scarce public dollars AHF receives," he said, calling the partnership a "creative solution to the current health care crisis."
Foundation officials said the funding shortage at the 2-year-old clinic stems from the high cost of the new drug treatment--about $600 per month per patient.
The Sherman Oaks clinic, one of four operated by the foundation, was allocated $677,000 in county funds this year but sought an additional $1.2 million. When that request was denied by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors last month, the foundation announced that it would have to close the Valley clinic.
Weinstein said the latest plan is a "creative alternative" to deal with the rising costs of treating HIV and AIDS despite shrinking funding. He challenged county, state and federal governments "to meet us halfway."
County AIDS Coordinator John Schunoffsaid a recent report found that annual costs to the county for treatment of low-income AIDS and HIV patients may soon rise by $9.5 million to $16 million--an increase of 25% to 40%. While he called the estimate a "rough first cut," he said the county has no hidden reserves or resources to meet such an increase, and will have a difficult time helping individual clinics, like those the foundation operates.
Schunoff praised the joint Valley venture, to be called the AHF Valley Healthcare Center/Gottlieb Medical Group. He said that by consolidating the two operations, the AIDS foundation "may cut some of the costs so that ultimately they can see more of the patients on the budget we were able to give them."