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HIV/AIDS clinic faces hurdles in attempt to consolidate services

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The AIDS Healthcare Foundation is seeking to absorb its pharmacy on 18th Street, into its clinic on Castro Street (pictured). However, surrounding neighbors and members of the business district are opposing the move. (Ekevara Kitpowsong/Special to S.F. Examiner)

A plan to consolidate a Castro district pharmacy and clinic serving those with HIV and AIDS that has drawn the ire of some neighbors is scheduled to go before the Planning Commission for approval today.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation opened its pharmacy at 4071 18th St. in 2007 and its clinic at 518 Castro St. in 2014, after vacating its original San Francisco location on Church Street, said Dale Gluth, the foundation’s Bay Area regional director.

The foundation is now looking to combine the two sites at the Castro Street location, and the Planning Commission on Thursday will consider granting a conditional use authorization that would allow the move. The conditional use is required because the pharmacy is considered a formula retail, or chain store, which requires special authorization.

“The only reason for the move is to consolidate services,” Gluth explained. “Our patients have asked for it. It’s a pretty common model; it’s considered the gold standard for providing care.”

The clinic, which is open two days a week, serves about 250 patients, while about 2,200 people frequent the pharmacy, said Gluth. Worldwide, the foundation treats about 600,000 patients. The organization has four other locations in the Bay Area; two more in San Francisco, and two in the East Bay.

Combining services in the Castro, Gluth noted, will allow the foundation to provide more efficient and streamlined services for its clients.

“We’re trying to reduce our footprint in the Castro, not expand it,” Gluth said.

But the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District and some neighbors argue there are enough pharmacies in the neighborhood and that the move would create another vacant storefront, among other concerns.

“There are already several pharmacies within a block of this location that serve the same clientele,” said Gary Weiss, a longtime flower shop owner in the Castro, wrote to city planners.

Those with the benefit district emphasize the area’s already peppered with empty storefronts.

“It is neither desirable nor necessary for the neighborhood to have another pharmacy on Castro Street,” Andrea Aiello, executive director of the benefit district, wrote to city planners, adding that there are already six vacant storefronts within two blocks of the current pharmacy.

Gluth, however, said the opposition actually stems from a disagreement on policy issues related to the HIV/AIDS community, rather than the foundation’s physical impact on the neighborhood.

“[The opposition] is not necessarily based on land use concerns, but more on opinions and philosophical differences in HIV prevention,” Gluth said. While doctors at the foundation prescribe the HIV prevention drug PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, it doesn’t advocate for the drug as a widespread health strategy, which Gluth said is misinterpreted as being anti-PrEP.

The foundation also supports a statewide November ballot initiative that would require the use of condoms in all pornographic films produced in California, which opponents argue will drive the industry out of the state.

“As an organization, AHF has spoken out against the use of PreP which has been proven to reduce HIV transmissions. AHF is also against condom-less adult films, which will move this valuable industry out of our State,” longtime Castro resident Jim Manning wrote to city planners.

Five letters of support for the pharmacy’s move, including from nearby businesses; the Shanti Project that supports those with HIV/AIDS, cancer and other life-threatening conditions; and city public health workers, were also submitted to the Planning Department.

Supervisor Scott Wiener, who represents the Castro, has not taken a public stance on the pharmacy’s potential move, according to his office.

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