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Desert AIDS Project CEO Recovering After …

Desert AIDS Project CEO Recovering After Testing Positive for COVID-19; continues to lead DAP’s response efforts.

Contact: Steven Henke

shenke@desertaidsproject.org
(612) 310-3047

 

Press Release

Palm Springs, CA April 9, 2020 —David Brinkman , CEO of Desert AIDS Project, was tested for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new strain of coronavirus, at Desert AIDS Project’s COVID-19 Triage Clinic. The test came back positive on March 29. Brinkman sought testing after experiencing a cough and fatigue.  He is recovering while self-quarantined at home.

Local writer Daniel Vailancourt spoke with David Brinkman about his experience with COVID-19, read the interview here.

“I chose to keep this private at first because I did not want to take any focus away from the care team at DAP responding to this crisis and serving our patients,” Brinkman said.

Desert AIDS Project opened its COVID-19 Triage Clinic on March 16. In addition to testing, the clinic provides treatment for symptoms of COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses that can present in a similar manner. Those without insurance coverage are never turned away.

Brinkman has remained at the forefront of DAP’s response to the pandemic while self-quarantining at home. DAP launched two new services for testing and care including Virtual Visits for DAP’s clients unable to leave their homes, and drive-through testing outside its COVID-19 Triage Clinic to provide access to larger numbers of community members seeking care. “This experience has reinforced my belief that no person in our valley should be without healthcare,” said Brinkman. “We are opening DAP’s doors even wider to community members who need access to care during this crisis.”

“It’s in the very DNA of Desert AIDS Project to respond quickly to a public health crisis using science and medicine to create a humanitarian response,” said Brinkman. “We are using our tested roadmaps from the HIV and HCV epidemics to respond to COVID-19." Helping people survive epidemics is in the Coachella Valley has been the core specialty of DAP for 35 years. With the largest infectious disease team of clinicians in this region of California, DAP offers expert medical care, anchored by a deep understanding of Coachella Valley epidemiology.

The team at Desert AIDS Project has been adaptive in their approach and quick in their response to ensure continuous care for our patients and clients.

  • Desert AIDS Project launched MyChart Virtual Visit, a digital solution that ensures our patient's continuum of care from the comfort of their home. MyChart Virtual Visit is an easy and reliable way for them to meet with their clinicians. Click here to learn more about MyChart Virtual Visit. Our patients still have the option for an in-person meeting with their clinician in our Blue Clinic or Green Clinic on the DAP campus.
  • Testing and symptom treatment in DAP's COVID-19 Triage clinic continues daily. 
  • DAP is still welcoming new clients during the COVID-19 health crisis. Services available include:
    • Primary Care
    • Specialty Care for HIV and Hep C
    • Behavioral Healthcare
    • Emergency Dental Care
    • Sexual Health Services at The DOCK
    • Social Services like case management, food assistance, transportation, housing and home care.
  • The DOCK, temporarily housed in DAP’s Green Clinic, continues to see patients who have questions about their sexual health, testing for STI's and HIV while our PrEP navigators continued to provide access to this prevention method.
  • DAP's Social Service and Community Health teams launched home delivery of essential supplies, including food for our most vulnerable clients ensuring they don't need to leave their home to go to the grocery store during the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you believe you might be symptomatic or need information about testing, please call our COVID-19 hotline at (760) 992-0407.

About Desert AIDS Project

Desert AIDS Project (DAP) is a Federally Qualified Health Center in Palm Springs, CA offering DAP 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. DAP’s sexual health clinic, The DOCK, offers STI testing and treatment, Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP), and HIV and HCV testing. DAP’s Get Tested Coachella Valley campaign, the nation’s first region-wide free HIV testing and access to care initiative, was recognized by the White House for helping to bring about an AIDS-free future. DAP has earned a “Four Star” rating from Charity Navigator for the twelfth consecutive year – landing DAP in the top 6% of nonprofits rated. The distinction recognizes that we exceed industry standards in terms of our financial health, accountability, and transparency.

Visit www.desertaidsproject.orgwww.thedockclinic.org, and www.gettestedcoachellavalley.org to learn more.

Coming Out All Over Again

Coming Out All Over Again

For the first time, Desert AIDS Project CEO David Brinkman speaks publicly about his very personal struggle with COVID-19

By Daniel Vaillancourt

Making good on its mission to provide holistic healthcare to every resident of the Coachella Valley, regardless of serostatus or ability to pay, Desert AIDS Project unveiled its new COVID-19 Triage Clinic on Monday, March 16. This, by the by, despite the fact that the pandemic will ultimately have a negative economic impact of some $2.5 million on DAP due to revenue lost from the cessation of routine visits and reduction of select services, the closure of all Revivals thrift stores, and the cancellation of annual fundraiser Dining Out For Life.

Among those so far tested for the novel coronavirus at DAP is the non-profit’s CEO, David Brinkman, whose result was positive. What follows is an edited transcript of our telephone conversation of Tuesday, April 7—nine days after his diagnosis. I was sequestered in my home office; he was quarantined in his.

(Full disclosure: For the last decade, I have scripted DAP’s annual benefit, February’s Steve Chase Humanitarian Awards. Following known exposure to multiple friends currently suffering from COVID-19, I, too was tested for the coronavirus at DAP. My result was negative.)

DAP CEO David Brinkman at the Steve Chase Humanitarian Awards
David Brinkman at the February 2020 Steve Chase Humanitarian Awards Photo: Lani Garfield

Daniel Vaillancourt: First things first. How are you feeling?

David Brinkman: I’m fine. Each morning my energy increases a little bit over the day before. That’s the sign you’re on the mend, right? I’m much more concerned about DAP’s well-being.  

To my knowledge, you’re the first leader or public figure in the desert to come out about testing positive for the coronavirus. Why are you going on the record?

That’s probably the hardest question to answer. I initially thought I wouldn’t share this publicly. Our focus needs to be solely on supporting our healthcare workers on our front line, educating the community, and supporting its members. I first spoke to my physician husband, Will Grimm, then to my board chair and co-chair, Steve Kaufer and Patrick Jordan. It quickly became clear that by sharing my story, I could help our community and DAP win the war against this virus. So here I am, using this platform to educate, decrease fear, and inspire hope.

What led to your wanting to be tested?

Ever since the start of this crisis, all of us at DAP have been working a minimum of 12 hours a day. By Thursday, March 26, I couldn’t tell what was going on with my immune system, but I could tell it was being impacted. Was I manifesting symptoms of a cold because of exhaustion, or was it something else? On the morning of Friday, March 27, I called DAP’s COVID-19 hotline and was assessed over the phone. I didn’t want a test kit to be used on me unless it was absolutely necessary. After voicing my symptoms—especially my dry cough, the telltale sign of coronavirus infection—I was instructed to come in and be tested. I was administered nasopharyngeal and throat swabs, then told to quarantine. I headed straight back to my home office. DAP has been my focus every waking hour of the day since the pandemic began, so I had plenty of work to keep me busy.

No anxiety as you awaited the test result?

I was fortunate that by the time I was tested, the labs had caught up and increased productivity. I was told I’d have news within 48 hours to three days. Five days at the very worst. I got the call on the evening of Sunday, March 29—just a little more than 48 hours later. Honestly, from all the years of being tested for HIV and the memories of having to wait two weeks for those results back in the ’90s, this was nothing. So no, I wasn’t anxious at all. That said, in times of crisis, one of my roles at DAP is to be very visible, demonstrating a tone of leadership, certainty, calmness, and focus. I knew that if I tested positive, there was no way I could do that. It would change how I communicate with our employees.

Did you not have qualms about being tested at your place of employment?

That’s a legitimate question, but at DAP we’re so well-trained around issues of confidentiality and HIPAA laws to protect patient privacy. I knew the same standard would apply to me. Following my positive test result, per DAP’s policy, I notified our head of human resources. Had I been in close physical contact with another staff member while contagious, HR would have notified that person. But in my case, since we’d already been social distancing at work—or working remotely from home—for weeks, there was nobody to notify.

How did the disease progress post-diagnosis?

Interestingly, I never experienced fever. After I got my results back, the next phase of the virus was loss of taste and smell. Those symptoms lasted nine days. Just two days ago, I tasted sweetness again. Yesterday, I started to taste salt. By the middle of last week, the fatigue was getting more significant and problematic, because my average day—filled with phone calls, emails, and meetings via Zoom—is 12 hours long, at minimum. I’m someone who can usually function perfectly on two and a half to five hours of sleep a night. Since becoming sick, I’ve been sleeping nine hours a night solid, without opening an eye once, which I haven’t done since I was a teenager. Finally, there was a period where my lungs started to tighten. I never felt like I couldn’t breathe, but a week ago, each evening as the sun was setting, my breaths became belabored. It started low in my lungs and stayed there for five or six days. Thank goodness, last weekend it came to the top of my lungs and has started moving. Today, it’s loosened. I finally feel like I’m getting over it.

Being the leader of a healthcare organization providing services to the community during this pandemic, how has it been for you to access said services personally?

What comes to mind is not about my being tested and proving positive. It’s about reflecting upon all of us going through this pandemic together. I also reflect upon how our DAP founders were feeling when hundreds of thousands of young people were dying of AIDS in the early eighties. We all know that when fear grabs hold of you, it paralyzes you from finding creativity, power, and resourcefulness. This pandemic makes me think about our founders with a heightened level of respect, but also inquisitiveness about what moved them through their fear to a place that created the response Desert AIDS Project became. They were losing the loves of their lives, their very best friends. From talking to our surviving founders over the years—and seeing how quickly their eyes well up with tears—I know it was unconditional love for humanity that propelled them.

What would you like to leave our readers with?

I want to remind them that DAP has previously honored the great physicians Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx on our Steve Chase stage. Both of them said that DAP is a global model on how to respond to the AIDS crisis—our organization, in our small town. Given where these two experts are today—and what important roles they play in this current pandemic—I hope their great esteem of DAP and of our community encourages all of us to know that, together, we can prevent the spread of this pandemic here in the desert. We can prevent further loss of life. We have an amazing team of infectious disease specialists and heroic nurses providing stellar services. The uninsured are never turned away. That’s so special. We’re soon launching our first coronavirus-positive support group via Zoom. That’s so unique. Imagine the impact those first support groups for HIV-positive people had in 1983. We can show the world what a community of committed neighbors can do. Why? Because we’ve done it so successfully in the past.

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