A new HIV clinic is open on Jacksonville’s Southside.
The CAN Community Health clinic, which is being run by Lutheran Social Services (LSS), has been taking clients since its soft opening earlier this year. The two organizations have been working together over the past two years or so to get the clinic up and running.
A grand opening ceremony was held Thursday
Heather Vaughan, Director of Human Services at LSS, said the area needed another clinic to help serve residents who have been diagnosed with HIV and AIDS.
“If you look at the number of HIV and AIDS diagnoses in our country, the south has higher prevalence rates than anywhere else,” said Vaughan. “Jacksonville has about 7,200 individuals living with HIV and AIDS, and our Jacksonville area has about 300 new diagnoses a year. So our numbers are not going down.”
According to Vaughan, the highest prevalence of HIV and AIDS diagnoses are found in the zipcodes on the Northside - 32202, 32209, 32206, and 32204. But 32207 on the Southside, where the new CAN clinic is located, has seen a growing number of HIV and AIDS diagnoses for a long time.
Vaughan said Lutheran Social Services, through their AIDS care and education program, serve about 1,500 people a year. Most of those people live between the river and the clinic, but they do have a few clients from the Northside.
There are other clinics in and around Jacksonville. Vaughan said there’s one on 8th Street downtown, one at the Duval Department of Health off of University Blvd. and one in Riverside. The new CAN clinic, located at 4615 Philips Highway, is the first on the Southside.
Single people making $43,000 or less can qualify for assistance at the new CAN clinic, which offers free testing, prep services (which can reduce the risk of contracting HIV), case management, mental health services, medical nutrition therapy, support groups, Peer navigators, a food pantry, and even housing services.
Peer Navigators are individuals who have been diagnosed with HIV or AIDS and now work to help others struggling with the virus. There are seven employed Peer navigators in Jacksonville, and three of those work at the new CAN clinic.
“Can’t stress enough how important it is to have this clinic on the Southside of Jacksonville,” said Justin Bell, Medical Peer Navigator and Community Liaison for CAN Community Health. “I also wanted to point out that although the zipcodes on the Northside may be the ones where we report the high diagnoses... we don’t always play where we get tested.”
Johnathan Harris is a client and volunteer at CAN. He was diagnosed with HIV on October 22, 2017. His mother brought him to Lutheran Social Services, but he ran away and ended up in the hospital where he said he was “near death twice.”
While he was in the hospital, Harris, who was uninsured, wracked up $125,000 in debt.
Since Lutheran Social Services took Harris on as a client, they’ve helped with his copays and helped him apply for various forms of financial assistance like food stamps.
Harris said now that Lutheran Social Services and CAN Community Health is in his life he sees a brighter future for himself, and the help he received inspired him to help others who are struggling with HIV and AIDS.
“My biggest advice for young people and other people is to get tested,” said Harris. “If they need a home or if they need support, this is a great place to come. Lutheran Social Services and CAN Community Health.”