Refusal to Treat HIV-Positive Patient Protested


AIDS activists on Thursday denounced a Ventura physician who refused to treat an HIV-positive patient who went to an urgent-care clinic with a cut on his hand.

Dr. Thelma Reich has since resigned, clinic officials said, because she would not comply with their policy of treating everyone. But the activists say they will vent their outrage today during a protest in front of the Ventura Urgent Care & Family Planning clinic on Ralston Street.

They will also call on the California Medical Board to take action against Reich and the clinic, and they hope to elicit an official apology from clinic officials, said David Enos, a member of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, or ACT UP.


“We want to inform the medical professionals out there who do not treat HIV patients every day that they have a responsibility to become informed and not continue this sort of discrimination,” Enos said.

The incident was triggered Feb. 14 when Salvador Fuentes cut his hand as he was washing a wine glass.

Fuentes, 30, who has AIDS, said the cut was not deep enough to warrant a trip to the emergency room, so he decided to seek treatment at the urgent-care center.

He said he called the clinic to inquire if there would be a problem because he is HIV-positive.

A nurse at the clinic told him there was no policy against treating people who were HIV-positive or had AIDS, but when he arrived, Reich refused to stitch his wound, he said. She told him that treating an AIDS patient could jeopardize the health of her staff and patients, he said.

Fuentes insisted that Reich put her refusal in writing, which she did on a clinic prescription pad: “This is to inform you that I do not treat patients with HIV positive in our clinic. Advised to go to county ER (emergency room) for treatment.”


Fuentes then asked a friend to take him to the emergency room at the Ventura County Medical Center, where a physician closed the cut with four stitches, he said.

Attorneys from the Western Law Center for the Handicapped and the American Civil Liberties Union said they will file suit in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles contending that Fuentes’ civil rights were abridged by the clinic.

Reich’s refusal to treat Fuentes solely because of his HIV-positive status is a violation of both federal and California discrimination laws, said Sande Pond, a Western Law Center attorney.

Reich could not be reached for comment Thursday.