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South Florida Health Center Takes HIV Prevention and Treatment to Neighborhood Streets

Most years, the news is bad. When government agencies compile annual data about new HIV infections, Miami is typically among the top three cities in America, and sometimes comes in at number one. 

Indeed, during the first nine months of 2023, Florida, the country’s third most populous state, reported more new HIV infections than any other state, according to the Centers for Disease Control. CDC reports the greatest number of new infections were in Dade and Broward Counties, which include Miami and Fort Lauderdale. 

Staff at Care Resource Community Health Centers in Miami focus on prevention, testing and treatment for HIV in one of the nation’s most ethnically diverse regions, encompassing both hotspot counties. The center sends three mobile vans to sites such as community centers, drug stores and major Pride events. 

The health center works on multiple fronts, prescribing PrEP medications available to high-risk patients, encouraging testing both at home and in its clinics, and ensuring those infected with HIV get prompt treatment. A linkage to care team with Hispanic, Haitian and Anglo members ensures prompt services and follow up for those who have HIV. 

When providers see that a patient is not getting treatment or showing up for a scheduled appointment, they will ask the team to contact them. 

“Especially during the first year, people tend to fall out of care,” said Ron Ledain, Director of Marketing, Health Promotion and Linkage at Care Resource.

The center started in 1983 under the name Health Crisis Network specifically to help those suffering from AIDS, and gradually expanded its services. Care Resource became a Federally Qualified Health Center in 2009, and currently offers everything from pediatric services to dental care. 

Today about 17 percent of patients have HIV. Those who do test positive get prompt treatment. “We have the capacity to absorb most patients right away. We get patients started on medication within 24 hours 95 percent of the time,” said Dr. Steven Santiago, the center’s Chief Medical Officer. 

And the center can keep about 75 percent of HIV patients in treatment, which Santiago regards as a good proportion given South Florida’s transient population.

Broward County, which includes Fort Lauderdale, has a sizable transgender population.  Santiago noted that part of the center’s success stems from its diverse staff, including transgender people. “We have trans staff; that’s important to our trans patients.  A lot of transgender patients are fearful of the health care world.”