Desert AIDS Project has started construction on the largest expansion since it moved into its current campus in 1998—a $20 million project, slated for completion in 2020, that will more than double the organization’s patient capacity.
This news about the expansion, called D.A.P. Vision 2020, may make some people wonder: Why such a large expansion? And why now?
Darrell Tucci, Chief Development Officer for D.A.P., says one word can answer these queries: Need. Specifically, there’s a huge need for quality health-care services in the area—and D.A.P. is stepping in to fill that need.
“This expansion is vital, because more than half of our neighbors in the Coachella Valley live at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level (or about $24,000 per year, per person), and many of those people live without access to quality health care,” Tucci said. “We will be able to serve more people, regardless of their HIV status, without compromising our original mission of ending the epidemic of HIV in the valley. We’re not exchanging one for the other.”
While helping men and women dealing with HIV and AIDS has always been at the core of D.A.P.’s mission, the organization today serves everyone and anyone in need of quality medical care, regardless of HIV status, because it is now a Federally Qualified Health Center. Anyone in need of primary medical care can walk in D.A.P.’s doors and become a client—getting access to doctors, prescriptions, dental care and behavior-health care. In fact, roughly half of D.A.P.’s clients today are not living with HIV.
With the existing facilities, D.A.P. is struggling to fill this massive need—hence the expansion, which includes purchasing the county health care building next door, and joining it with the current main D.A.P. building. When the expansion is complete, D.A.P.’s 60,490-square-foot campus will be able to serve 8,000 patients, up from 3,900 in 2017. The dental clinic will be able to help 1,700 people, compared to 814 in 2017, while the behavioral-health-patient capacity will rise from 583 to 1,200.
The expansion will also include a 76 percent increase in the number of apartment units for low-income individuals on the D.A.P. campus, from 80 to 140 units. There is currently a three-year waiting list for such housing.
While the scope of the current Desert AIDS Project expansion is unprecedented, the organization has a long history of adjusting to meet the needs of both its clients and the entire Coachella Valley:
• In 1994; D.A.P. opened a satellite office in Indio to offer HIV and hepatitis C testing; D.A.P. also offered, and continues to offer, intervention and case-management services to the east valley’s underserved, largely low-income and Latino communities via its Indio facility.
• In 2001, recognizing that many people living with HIV were suffering from nutritional challenges due to a lack of steady employment, D.A.P. opened the Morris and Lila Linsky Food Depot to provide healthy food, grocery-store vouchers and nutritional guidance to clients in need.
• Due to the lack of affordable housing for people living with HIV and other chronic conditions, D.A.P. in 2007 opened the Vista Sunrise Apartments on the D.A.P. campus, with the support of philanthropist Philip Caplin.
• The following year, D.A.P. opened the first HIV-specialty dental clinic in Riverside County, on the D.A.P. campus, later expanded by philanthropists Georgia and Gerald Fogelson.
• In 2012, Annette Bloch—who continues to be one of D.A.P.’s most generous supporters—provided the funding for D.A.P.’s Cancer Care Center, dedicated to HIV-related cancer research, screenings, treatment and prevention.
• Due in part to the fact that the Coachella Valley’s rate of HIV infection is more than twice the federal rate, D.A.P. in 2014 launched Get Tested Coachella Valley, the nation’s first nonprofit-led, region-wide initiative featuring HIV testing, prevention, education and linkage to care. More than 81,000 residents have been tested to date.
• Since a lack of access to sexual-wellness information was contributing to an increase in sexually transmitted infections in the area, D.A.P. in 2015 opened The Dock, a walk-in, no-appointment-needed clinic offering HIV and STI testing, as well as linkage to care, and access to PrEP—a medication which helps prevent HIV—and PEP, which helps people who have been exposed to HIV.
Construction on the $20 million expansion is under way due to the generosity of many local businesses and individuals; in fact, D.A.P. has received approximately $13.15 million in funding commitments so far. However, that means D.A.P. still needs to raise nearly $7 million in order to make the complete expansion a much-needed reality.
Tucci said it’s in the entire community’s best interests to support D.A.P.’s expansion.
“If you know people affected by HIV, you should support us as we continue to expand as the region’s largest service provider supporting those who live with HIV,” he said. “If you don’t feel like you’ve been directly affected by HIV, you should support us because of the 40,000 or so people in the Coachella Valley who are without a primary care physician, because we can offer many of those people a medical home.”
The time for the expansion is now, he said, since advances in medical care and support services have made it so people who live with HIV can not only survive, but thrive.
“Short of a cure, we can stop the spread of HIV completely by identifying everyone with HIV and getting them proper health care, including medications that make (their HIV) undetectable and therefore not infectious,” Tucci said.
For more information, or to donate to the D.A.P. Vision 2020 expansion, call Christopher Ruetz, D.A.P.’s Director of Major and Planned Giving, at 760-656-8450, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit dapvision2020.org.