By Joe Veyera
The largest provider of HIV/AIDS care in the United States has expanded its presence in Seattle, in the form of a new healthcare center on Capitol Hill.
Last Wednesday, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation officially marked the opening of the new clinic at 1016 E. Pike St., which will provide medical programs customized to fit the needs of both asymptomatic and symptomatic individuals with either virus.
The foundation is no stranger to the neighborhood — or the building — making its initial foray into the area three years ago with the purchase of the MOMS Pharmacy chain in 2012, which was then at its Seattle location in the 1000 block of East Union Street.
“That was sort of the foundation for what we’re building here,” said AHF President Michael Weinstein.
Last year, the pharmacy moved to its current spot on the building’s ground floor, a relocation that coincided with the opening of Out of the Closet Thrift, also run by AHF.
Weinstein was among those on hand for the ceremonial ribbon cutting Wednesday, and said it took plenty of work to convert the space on the second floor for it’s new use.
“I vaguely could visualize it being turned into something nice,” he said, “but you really had to use your imagination.”
Weinstein, who co-founded the organization in the late 1980s, said the fact the complex houses several other entities that serve the same community, including the offices for Lifelong AIDS Alliance, makes the space akin to a community center, as well as a doctor’s office.
“I think very often clients have to go hither and yond to get the services they need, and here you can find it in one place,” he said.
For John Hassell, a former Seattle resident and current AHF regional director in Washington, D.C., the opening of the new facility means the addition of another space in the area that can help close the gap between the total number of people that have HIV or AIDS, and the number currently in treatment.
While Hassell said Seattle and King County have done a great job of getting people into care, approximately 20 to 25 percent of those living with HIV or AIDS are thought to not be in routine care, which means seeing a doctor three times a year, getting blood work, and staying adherent to anti-retroviral medications.
Hassell compared closing that gap to “the last mile of the marathon.”
“That sort of brass ring, that’s what we’re shooting for wherever we open up a facility,” he said.
According to the most recent quarterly surveillance report from June, there are approximately 7,500 people living with HIV/AIDS in Seattle and King County, and nearly 14,000 diagnosed across the state.
Dr. Ben Zaniello, the medical director of the new clinic, said access is the critical component to fighting HIV/AIDS, making the foundation’s commitment to serving patients regardless of their ability to pay all the more important.
“There’s just not enough places that say, ‘We don’t care that you don’t have a big, commercial insurance, that you’re employed, we don’t care about your homelessness, we can help you with all of this,’ ” Zaniello said.
That doesn’t mean the area doesn’t already boast a number of great HIV providers and clinics, or that the new clinic is doing something uniquely different, Weinstein said, but having another outlet for people to seek treatment is critical.
“You can’t have too many access points,” he said.
Nationally, Weinstein said the foundation will cross the 500,000-patient mark by the end of the year, and hopes to serve 1 million people by 2020, as the organization continues to work toward closing the treatment gap both nationally and internationally. Across the country, AHF operates nearly 50 healthcare centers, as part of nearly 300 around the world.
In Seattle, Zaniello said he’s “tremendously excited” to get to work.
“As the provider, I’m incredibly excited that we have all these empty clinic rooms,” Zaniello said, “because I know that I’m going to get the opportunity to bring people into treatment, and take someone that potentially is not seeing a way out of their illness and their current situation, and bring them to a healthy, happy place.”