Task Force Wants AIDS Test Center and Hospital
A special task force on AIDS urged the city and county Wednesday to consider opening an AIDS hospital and nursing home, provide space in Hillcrest for AIDS screening, and pay for increased public education about the fatal disease.
The recommendations, in the second annual report of San Diego Mayor Roger Hedgecock’s AIDS task force, were said by some to express members’ frustration with official reluctance to commit public money to help victims of acquired immune deficiency syndrome.
“I think in order to get anything done, we need financial support and support from the city and the county,” said Terry Cunningham, a member of the volunteer task force. “If they want a group that is going to be able to affect politicians and make changes, then I think we’re going to have to have a little more credibility than just an ad hoc committee.”
But Hedgecock and others countered that the task force was intended to collect information on AIDS in San Diego and the available facilities and services. The task force has done just that, they said, giving the city and county a foundation on which to build.
Hedgecock said he would ask the City Council on Monday to accept the report and send it to the city manager. He said the manager would discuss it with the county’s administrative officer and return with a timetable for considering the proposals.
“I think they have given us bites that are digestible here--for instance, finding money for a location for the AIDS Project and screening is do-able,” Hedgecock said. He said patient support services may require state money, and the hospital proposal will require more study.
Among its recommendations, the task force asked to form a subcommittee to look into reopening a place like the shuttered College Park Hospital to accommodate the 150 to 200 new AIDS patients expected to be diagnosed in 1986.
The subcommittee would also consider developing long-term care facilities offering nursing and room and board. Such a facility would free acute-care hospital beds now filled by homeless or terminally ill AIDS patients, the report said.
It recommended an anti-discrimination ordinance like the one recently passed in Los Angeles, barring discrimination in employment, housing, health services and education on grounds that a person had been diagnosed as having AIDS.
Finally, the task force asked to be reappointed for a third year and to be jointly sponsored by the City Council and the county Board of Supervisors, with a permanent staff and operating budget.
“It is increasingly difficult for a solely voluntary organization to attempt to set policy and to provide an overview for a variety of programs,” said the report from the task force, headed by Dr. Robert G. Petersdorf, dean of the UC San Diego School of Medicine. “The magnitude of the ongoing effort to combat AIDS will need to be increased and will require more governmental help.”
The task force offered no estimates of the costs of the proposals.
Acquired immune deficiency syndrome results from a virus that destroys its victims’ ability to fight off infection. Transmitted through sexual contact and blood, it has mostly affected homosexual men and recipients of blood transfusions.
According to the report, 184 people in San Diego County have been diagnosed as having AIDS. Between 1981 and September, 1985, 107 people in the county died of AIDS.
The increasing patient caseload has strained medical institutions, such as UCSD Medical Center, which handles most AIDS cases. The average number of inpatient cases at UCSD has risen from four in early 1985 to more than six in the last two months.
“The increase in number of patients during the next two to three years is projected to require 20 to 30 isolation beds by 1988,” the report said. “Unless steps are taken to provide additional rooms suitable for care of AIDS patients at the Medical Center, UCSD will be unable to function as the referral hospital for AIDS.”
The strain is made severe by the lack of intermediate-care or nursing-home facilities willing to deal with AIDS, the report said. Homeless and debilitated patients end up filling acute-care hospital beds long after they no longer need acute care.
Furthermore, AIDS patients cost hospitals more than Medi-Cal pays, the report said. They also place unusual psychological and emotional strains on medical workers, necessitating increased educational efforts to offset fears and frustrations.
Other services offered in San Diego include the county Health Department’s public-education efforts on AIDS; prevention and support services from the private, nonprofit San Diego AIDS Project, and the Gay Male Screening Program at the Beach Area Community Clinic.
The screening program is funded by patient fees, donations and fund-raisers in the gay community. The report suggests that if the screening program had access to a computer, it could use its statistics to apply for grants to ensure that no one would be denied screening for lack of the $60 fee.
Some of the recommendations overlap those made recently by county Supervisors Susan Golding and Leon Williams. The supervisors have scheduled an AIDS conference Dec. 10, at which members of Hedgecock’s task force are expected to testify.
Neil Good, an aide to Williams, said the board may want to establish its own task force, including members of the city’s task force. That group would then “come up with a battle plan on combating AIDS,” Good said.