Equitas Health Expands Care Services, Impact with Social Enterprise

This year Equitas Health will serve 67,300 plus Ohioans by providing direct medical care and HIV prevention, education and testing. Over 110,000 prescriptions will be filled at the Equitas Health Pharmacy.

91 percent of Equitas’ HIV patients are prescribed anti-retroviral drugs compared to a national average of just 37 percent, and 80 percent are virally suppressed, meaning a lower risk of transmission, versus a national average of just 30 percent.

In just a few short years, Equitas Health has achieved significant outcomes in providing better care to the HIV/AIDS and LGBTQ communities. To understand the significance of Equitas Health’s rapid success and achievements in advocating ‘care for all,’ one must understand the organization’s background.

The organization was founded 32 years ago as social services agency the Columbus AIDS Task Force.

“Primarily we hired social workers to manage a population of individuals living with HIV and connecting them to services,” says Chief Marketing & Community Affairs Officer Joel Diaz.

Federal grant dollars allowed the organization to connect its clients with infectious disease doctors to provide the proper care, while also building the nonprofit’s legacy in prevention, education, testing and advocacy for the HIV/AIDS population.

2011 was a milestone year of mergers that would allow two organizations providing similar services in different parts of the state to come together under one umbrella. Serving central and southeast Ohio, the Columbus Aids task force merged with the Aids Resource Center which served Dayton and Northeast Ohio. Another merger with the Ohio Aids Coalition provided the organization with a statewide reach in advocacy, public policy and education work.

Under the Aids Resource Center name, the organization was able to reach 72 of the 88 counties in Ohio.

“The organizations were operating in very similar formats and styles with the same type of funding structure, so largely relying on government grants,” Diaz says.

The merger created a total budget of $6.5 million – over three-quarters of which game from government grant funding.

Merging organizations also allowed for streamlining, taking the strengths of each organization and building best practices.

The next year brought more change.

“February of 2012 our board approved a business plan for us to open a new medical center and pharmacy,” Diaz says.

The AIDS Resource Center Ohio was emulating a model implemented by an AIDS resource center in Wisconsin. The business plan created an integrated care system that would add a medical center and pharmacy to the center’s list of services, allowing the organization to treat its patients directly.

With the help of a team of consultants from Wisconsin, in just eight short months the AIDS Resource Center of Ohio expanded to direct care in September of 2012.

“We operate on an integrated care model which is really important because we work with a patient population, when we were talking about HIV/AIDS patients and clients, that are high-need, and so they need multiple touch points in terms of their care,” explains Diaz.

The organization went from being a middleman to a one-stop-shop, employing doctors, nurses, mental health therapists, medical social workers and a pharmacy team trained in HIV/AIDS medicine to treat its patient population directly. The care team works together to reinforce messaging, and close gaps that keep patients from seeking effective treatment.

“We want to remove those barriers to care and ensure that if someone is coming in, not only can they see their doctor, but when they leave they are going to take their medication with them so they don’t have to make one more stop somewhere else,” Diaz says.

In 2012, the initial business model included a pharmacy accessible to medical center patients and AIDs Resource Center clients, but has evolved into a game-changing social enterprise that has exponentially increased the organization’s reach.

The pharmacy was seen as a way to generate revenue as the medical center was expected to lose money operating on a sliding fee scale.

That’s why the pharmacy was such a critical component because the pharmacy operates as a social enterprise,” Diaz says. “100 percent of the profits are reinvested back into the organization’s programs and services.” 

In reality, the medical center has been profitable, and the pharmacy has outpaced any imaginable expectations.

The pharmacy was well-received by AIDS Resource Center’s patient population, but after around a half a year of operation, realized it had the attention of a larger audience.

“Individuals that were not HIV positive wanted to also utilize the pharmacy as a way to support the organization so we decided to open up our pharmacy to the general public,” Diaz says. 

Anyone can utilize the pharmacy and take advantage of its mail order delivery service at no additional cost. The pharmacy ships to most places in the state and even offers courier delivery services for businesses.

The overall model was so successful that n 2014, the Aids Resource Center opened an additional medical center and pharmacy in Dayton, OH. The center met its patient enrollment goals for the year in just five months, and goals for Columbus in just six months.

It seems as though the decision to expand its care model has led to nothing but success.

Our budget now, today, is $57 million, so five years ago our budget was $6.5 million,” Diaz says. “72 percent of our budget comes from our social enterprise. We’ve really completely changed the funding structure of the organization.” 

The organization went from not being able to add any programs, services or people without a grant, to creating a structure that is not only funding successful patient care for the HIV/AIDS population, but has expanded its service to the LGBTQ community.

The organization doesn’t receive any funding for its LGBTQ services.

We’re Largely subsidizing the cost of that mission expansion,” Diaz says

On April 11, 2016 the organization rebranded to the name it is known as today – Equitas Health – to represent this more encompassing environment.

“Our mission is to be the gateway to good health for those at risk of or affected by HIV/AIDS, for the LGBTQ community, and for those seeking a welcoming healthcare home,” Diaz says.

Some instances merge their causes into one. Equitas can provide primary care to prevention messaging to the population that sees the largest rates of HIV infections in the community – gay and bisexual men ages 13-29.

Equitas is offering the LGBTQ community a safe place from the discrimination a Kaiser Family Foundation study found they often face in a medical setting. Diaz says the center wants to change that dynamic in Columbus as the city has one of the largest LGBTQ populations in the Midwest.

The goal is to not only create that environment in Columbus, but across the state through the Equitas Health Institute.

“What that institute will do is work with the individuals in those communities to train providers to be able to provide culturally competent care,” Diaz says. “So in areas where we are not able to provide that care directly, we want to make sure that there are recognized providers who have received training and we can refer for those services.”

Equitas is also taking a special focus on trans health services.

“As a population, the transgender community is probably most impacted by healthcare disparities,” Diaz says.

The healthcare institute is assembling a coordinated care team, including nurses, doctors, pharmacists and therapists, who understand the issues affecting the transgender community specifically.

As Equitas Health settles into its new name and new role, the organization is already looking towards expansion and where it can open more medical centers and pharmacies.

“We knew that the pharmacy model was successful based on what we had seen and heard from Wisconsin…but we didn’t anticipate being so successful so quickly,” Diaz says.

A majority of the pharmacy’s clients come from the Equitas patient population, but Diaz says they are trying to build awareness around the general public’s access to the pharmacy as a way to give back to the community.

Joel Diaz will share more on Equitas’ journey and social enterprise model during a keynote interview at Aspire 2016 on Thursday, September 15. Click here for more details on the event. 

For more information, visit equitashealth.com.