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Hepatitis Center of Excellence Opens at Desert AIDS Project


David Brinkman, CEO
Desert AIDS Project (D.A.P.)
Tel: 760-992-0418
Email:  [email protected]

Hepatitis Center of Excellence Opens at Desert AIDS Project

Desert AIDS Project collaborates with Desert Oasis Healthcare to make state-of-the art Hepatitis testing and treatment accessible to the community.

PALM SPRINGS, CA, (December 5, 2016) –  Desert AIDS Project (D.A.P.) has opened the doors today to the Hepatitis Center of Excellence – a new clinic designed to address a serious and growing need for Hepatitis care in the local community.  D.A.P. is collaborating with Desert Oasis Healthcare (DOHC) to staff the new Center with Infectious Disease Physicians and Pharmacists who specialize in Hepatitis care.

Hepatitis Center of Excellence
at Desert AIDS Project
1695 N. Sunrise Way (at Vista Chino)
Open Monday through Friday (except holidays) from 8AM-5PM
By appointment only; to make an appointment, call 760-992-0426
Patient entrance:  Through loading dock ramp on south side of building
Check-in at The DOCK reception desk

Located at D.A.P.’s main campus in Palm Springs, the new Hepatitis Center of Excellence will deliver comprehensive, state-of-the art expertise to manage, support and cure those afflicted with Hepatitis. Services will include non-invasive diagnostic testing and staging, improved access to curative treatments, and compassionate support for the many complex issues associated with a Hepatitis diagnosis.

The new Center anticipates its major emphasis will be testing and treatment of Hepatitis C (HCV), a contagious liver disease that ranges in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness that attacks the liver. Hepatitis C can lead to liver cancer, the need for liver transplants, and increased risk of death.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that every American born from 1945 through 1965 get a blood test for Hepatitis C.  Thanks to recent medical breakthroughs, Hepatitis C can now be cured with anti-viral medication(s).

The collaboration between D.A.P. and DOHC was first suggested to the administration of both organizations by Shubha Kerkar, MD, MACP.  Dr. Kerkar has served both healthcare organizations for more than 20 years and has been a lead provider of HCV care for both agencies.

“This collaboration is bringing the effective model of HCV care we’ve developed at DOHC, to the community served by D.A.P., which is an FQHC,” she explained, referring to D.A.P.’s status as a Federally Qualified Health Center.  The new Center, which will make testing and care accessible to a broader population, accepts most private insurance, Medicare and Medi-Cal.   Uninsured income-qualified patients can receive care at reduced costs.

While systematic valley-wide testing would be needed to determine HCV prevalence in the Coachella Valley, it is estimated that as many as 4,000 Coachella Valley residents currently live with chronic HCV.  Approximately 3.5 million people in the US live have HCV – with somewhere in the range of 40% to 85% unaware that they are infected.  It is estimated that 2-3% percent of the global population, or 150 million individuals, are infected with HCV.

There are parallels between the HCV and HIV epidemics, and co-infection of the two viruses is common.  Per David Brinkman, CEO of Desert AIDS Project, “The number of people in the U.S. living with HCV is about triple the number living with HIV. Approximately 20% of D.A.P.’s HIV patients are co-infected with HCV. While the symptoms of HIV can take up to 10 years to appear, a person can have Hepatitis C for many decades without symptoms,” he continued. “As with HIV, the only way to know if you have Hepatitis C is to get tested.”

One highly significant difference between the two diseases is that HCV can now be cured.  However, “If people wait until they have symptoms of HCV, it’s too late,” emphasized Dr. Kerkar.  “We’re now seeing patients in their sixties, seventies and eighties with HCV, and it seems to be just the tip of the iceberg,” she cautioned.   “Stage 4 Hepatitis C is irreversible.  We need to find people at stages zero, one, two and three.”

Although D.A.P. has provided HCV testing and treatment for many years, the new Center enables the agency to offer its patients DOHC’s state-of the-art model of Hepatitis C care, delivered by Physicians and Pharmacists who specialize in Hepatitis.  The DOHC model has been published and presented in State and Regional US forums.  Additionally, the agency’s own unique D.A.P. Total Care model — which holistically integrates case management, counseling, and other healthcare services – will help patients to maintain their Hepatitis C medication regimens.

With the opening of the new Center, DOHC will continue to operate its existing Hepatitis clinic in Palm Springs which has treated more than 200 of its members.

Hepatitis C is usually spread when blood from a person infected with the Hepatitis C virus enters the body of someone who is not infected. Today, most people become infected with the Hepatitis C virus by sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs. Before 1992, when widespread screening of the blood supply began in the United States, Hepatitis C was also commonly spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants.

People can become infected with the Hepatitis C virus during such activities as

  • Sharing needles, syringes, or other equipment to inject drugs
  • Needlestick injuries in heath care setting
  • Being born to a mother who has Hepatitus C

Less commonly, a person can also get Hepatitis C virus infection through

  • Sharing personal care items that may have come in contact with another person’s blood, such as razors or toothbrushes
  • Having sexual contact with a person infected with the Hepatitis C virus

No vaccine for Hepatitis C is available. Research into the development of a vaccine is under way.

The CDC recommends that individuals talk to their doctor about being tested for Hepatitis C if any of the following are true:

  • You were born from 1945 through 1965.
  • You are a current or former injection drug user, even if you injected only one time or many years ago.
  • You were treated for a blood clotting problem before 1987.
  • You received a blood transfusion or organ transplant before July 1992.
  • You are on long-term hemodialysis treatment.
  • You have abnormal liver tests or liver disease.
  • You work in health care or public safety and were exposed to blood through a needlestick or other sharp object injury.
  • You are infected with HIV.

For more information about Hepatitis C from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, visit  http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hcv/cfaq.htm

About Desert AIDS Project
Desert AIDS Project (D.A.P.) is a Federally Qualified Health Center in Palm Springs, CA offering D.A.P. Total Care – a combination of medical, dental, counseling, social services, support groups, alternative therapies, in-house pharmacy and lab, and other health and wellness services.  D.A.P.’s sexual health clinic, The DOCK, offers STD testing and treatment, Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP), and free HIV and HCV testing. D.A.P.’s Get Tested Coachella Valley campaign, the nation’s first region-wide HIV testing and access to care initiative, was recognized by the White House for helping to bring about an AIDS-free future.  D.A.P. is rated a “Top 20 HIV Charity” by About.com. Visit www.desertaidsproject.orgwww.thedockclinic.org, and www.gettestedcoachellavalley.org to learn more.

About Desert Oasis Healthcare (DOHC)
Desert Oasis Healthcare is a healthcare organization that serves the residents of the greater Coachella Valley and surrounding desert communities of Riverside and San Bernardino Counties. DOHC is not an insurance health care plan. Rather, health care plans (Medicare, Medicare Advantage, and Commercial) contract with DOHC who in turn contracts with a network of over 100 Primary Care Providers, over 200 specialists, hospitals and diagnostic centers, and a continuum of health care systems. The DOHC network serves over 70,000 members/patients.

Reflective of the ever changing healthcare world, DOHC has been evolving since 1981. Desert Oasis Healthcare is a member of Heritage Provider Network (HPN), and was the first organization of HPN formed in 1981 as Desert Medical Group. In 1992, Oasis Independent Physician Association was formed and in 2006, the organizations merged to form Desert Oasis Healthcare.

DOHC continues to grow its extensive network that includes Home Health, Family Hospice Care, Palliative Care, and Accountable Care Organizations to complement the network of agencies ready to serve you.