Atlanta Journal-Constitution (10.27.03) - Wednesday, October
The Ponce de Leon Center in midtown Atlanta opened ten years
ago as a one-stop medical resource for HIV/AIDS outpatients.
Offering doctors, dentists, dermatologists, numerous other
specialists and support groups under one roof, the center was
designed to provide comprehensive care and keep patients
outside the city's public hospital facility, Grady Memorial.
Whereas once HIV/AIDS affected mostly middle-class, white gay
men, over the years the patient profile has changed as
HIV/AIDS incidence rises among minorities, heterosexuals,
females, the urban poor and rural residents. African Americans
make up 29 percent of Georgia's population but accounted for
76 percent of new AIDS cases in 2001. African-American women
accounted for 84 percent of all female AIDS cases in the
state. Of the nearly 28,000 Georgians with AIDS, two-thirds
live in metropolitan Atlanta.
Some of the clinic's clientele are homeless. Fifteen to 20
percent of Atlanta's homeless are estimated to be HIV-positive
- some 4,0000-5,000 people. Many are addicted to crack
cocaine, some suffer from mental illness, and few adhere well
to complicated antiretroviral treatment regimens, nor do they
come into the clinic regularly so doctors can monitor the
medicines' side effects.
"We're seeing more and more people who don't have the life
skills it takes to handle the new drugs," said Angelle
Vuchetich, clinic program manager at the center. "What we have
now is an urban, poor population. Their ability to do all that
is required [to get treated] isn't there."
However, center statistics show that the comprehensive care
offered there has led to fewer clients skipping appointments
and to declines of some common AIDS-related infections.
The Ponce de Leon Center is part of the Grady Health System;
many of its specialists are affiliated with Emory and
Morehouse schools of medicine and CDC. Last year, the
University HealthSystem Consortium selected the center as one
of the top three US HIV/AIDS outpatient clinics.