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Porn industry clinic in Sherman Oaks is closed by L.A. County

Los Angeles County public health officials served a cease-and-desist order Thursday to the San Fernando Valley-based health clinic that caters to the porn industry, shutting down the facility to any new testing or procedures.

The order came two days after state health officials denied the Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation’s application to operate as a community clinic based on what regulators called “business-related issues.”

Diane Duke, executive director of the Free Speech Coalition, a Canoga Park-based porn trade association, said it was her understanding that despite the order, the clinic, known as AIM, will continue to maintain its database of test results used by porn producers to check whether performers have tested negative for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

Duke said performers will be tested using “satellite blood-draw services.”

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“Apparently the big difference is that the main AIM clinic cannot be utilized. Therefore, I do not believe that there will be any impairment of production activities,” Duke said.

On the clinic’s website late Thursday, staff called the closure a “temporary situation” and said they were “rapidly moving forward” on completing their license application.  The clinic is scheduled to be opened Friday for normal business hours and will provide performers a list of alternate testing sites.  

Jeffrey J. Douglas, one of the clinic’s attorneys, gave The Times a copy of a letter from state public health officials dated Nov. 30 that said AIM would have 60 days to straighten out problems in its application. Douglas questioned why the state acted far sooner.

“I guess some minds were changed,” he said in an e-mail.

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Among the issues, said Al Lundeen, a spokesman for the California Department of Public Health, was the clinic’s lack of a required agreement with a hospital where patients could be transferred as needed.

“AIM has been working on that,” Lundeen said, noting that AIM officials had been in contact with his office Thursday and provided additional information required for its license application to be approved.

Lundeen said it was unclear how soon clinic officials could submit a new license application.

“We’re open to continuing to work with them,” he said, but for clinic patients, “In the immediate future, they will need to seek services somewhere else.”

AIM opened in 1998. Lundeen said state officials were alerted that the Sherman Oaks clinic was unlicensed shortly before clinic officials applied for a license June 7 of this year.

County public health officials also did not become aware that the clinic was operating without a license until April of this year, according to Dr. Jonathan Fielding, the county’s public health director. In May, county officials sent AIM a letter advising that as a nonprofit, it could not operate under an affiliated physician’s license and needed to apply instead for a clinic license, Fielding said.

The clinic’s closure came days after HIV-positive porn performer Derrick Burts, who worked in both gay and straight productions, spoke out for the first time about his diagnosis in October. Burts, 24, has criticized AIM for what he has said was poor follow-up care and is calling for mandatory HIV testing and condom use in both the gay and straight shoots. His HIV-positive test result led to the shutdown of filming at several major straight porn production companies until performers who had worked with him tested HIV-negative.

“While L.A. County finally doing something by closing AIM is a good thing, we’ll see if they have the backbone to shut down productions,” said AIDS Healthcare Foundation President Michael Weinstein, a longtime critic of AIM, who renewed his call for public health authorities to shut down productions that do not require condoms.

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Fielding said it was up to the state to enforce workplace protections for adult film performers, but he urged porn producers not to rely on testing alone for protection.

“They need to use condoms so that these workers will not be put in a position where they are exposed to potentially life-threatening diseases,” Fielding said.

Steve Hirsch, founder and co-chairman of Studio City-based Vivid Entertainment, issued a statement Thursday saying he had faith in AIM and its testing system. Hirsch has spoken out in the past against efforts to require condom use in porn.

“We have been in contact with AIM and believe that the current situation is temporary and will be quickly remedied,” Hirsch said. “There are other alternatives that we can utilize in the meantime and will do so. We believe the current system of testing works. Our productions will proceed as scheduled.”

molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com


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