Photo by Can Türkyilmaz

AIDS Arms Inc. is an Oak Cliff-based nonprofit that started about 25 years ago to offer services to people infected with HIV and AIDS, as well of those at risk of contracting these viruses. AIDS Arms provides social services, counseling, group therapy, HIV testing and prevention, and medical care. They serve about 7,000 people a year. Earlier this year, the nonprofit moved its offices to Jefferson Towers, and this month, AIDS Arms is expected to open a new clinic to offer healthcare to some 2,500 people. We sat down with AIDS Arms executive director Raeline Nobles to talk about the $1.9-million clinic and the mission of AIDS Arms.

Your office is really nice.

Yes. Our building that we had before was a building with no windows. So now everyone in our group that’s here has a window. I knew it would improve morale, but I had no idea the impact of a window on people’s outlook and attitude and happiness, including my own.

Where is the new AIDS Arms clinic?

It’s on Sunset, just one block away from here. We have the Peabody Health Center in South Dallas, which will remain open. The new clinic is to expand our capacity, not move it. Peabody sees almost 1,200 patients, and their capacity is 900, so they’ve been over capacity for a while. And we will add another 2,500 patients to our capacity with the new clinic.

Funding to AIDS and HIV services always takes a hit during economic downtimes. Does that affect you?

Oh, yes, definitely. But we’ve planned accordingly. For so long, government contracts and public health grants have been our mainstay. When we planned for the new clinic, we started in 2008, just as the economy was turning. And that meant that our government contracts would be hit eventually. So we’ve got several sustainability measures built into the new clinic.

What are those?

We’ll have our own lab, so we can get revenue that way. We’ll have an electronic medical records system, so we’ll be able to bill insurance now. When you don’t have an electronic medical records system, you have to bill everything by hand, and that is very time consuming, so it doesn’t offset the cost of the time. We’ve gotten involved very heavily in HIV research over the past five years. Research is very lucrative, and it will help offset the losses from uninsured patients.

How many of your patients are uninsured?

Most of them are uninsured. About 30 percent of our total patient census has some kind of insurance, including Medicaid and Medicare. Private insurance is about 8 percent. Seventy percent or more are uninsured. Federal dollars used to pay for all the uninsured, but with the economy the way it is and budget cuts, that’s not the case anymore.

What else can you tell us about the new clinic?

Well, it will open by late summer, the end of August. It will have an onsite pharmacy, a full lab, about 16 exam rooms. And then we’ll have a community resource center where we’ll ask some other nonprofits to come in and help with some other needs like food, transportation, legal services and things like that.

What can our readers to do help the mission of AIDS Arms?

The most fun way to help us is to come out to Life Walk every year. That’s Oct. 2 this year, and that’s the AIDS walk in Dallas. We get about 8,000 people each year. Life Walk adds the human aspect to our programs. It allows us to do more for our clients than just the minimum. There’s also a school-supply drive. We serve over 800 children under the age of 16 who are either living with HIV or in the home of a guardian who’s living with it. That usually means they live in poverty because of the expense of the disease. We also have a Thanksgiving food drive, a Christmas toy drive. We’re always looking for volunteers just to help us at the office or at events, if people want to get involved that way.

Is there anything else you think we should talk about?

There are 6,400 people who are not receiving medical care for HIV in this community. We know that good medical care does two things for people. It increases their quality of life, and it reduces the transmission of the disease to others. When you have 6,400 people who cannot access medical care because of certain barriers, those are the ones most likely to spread the virus. There are 1,000 new cases of HIV in the Dallas area every year. We go from month-to-month sometimes, year-to-year. But AIDS Arms is all about those 6,400 people who are not in care. If a clinic is what it takes to get a third of those people into medical care, then we just curbed that disease’s growth. 

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