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New Phoenix center focuses on those with AIDS/HIV

At a Nov. 1 ceremony marking the opening of the Parsons Center for Health and Wellness, Daniel Leon explains the help he got from the Southwest Center for HIV/AIDS, one of the organizations housed at the facility. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Anne M. Shearer)

PHOENIX -- Daniel Leon said he didn't know where to find help after testing positive for HIV, but an Internet search brought him to the Southwest Center for HIV/AIDS.

He said he was able to find help with not only the physical aspects of his illness, but also the emotional and spiritual ones.

"At the center, I was able to get one-on-one counseling, group counseling, and above all, be a person again, not just a diagnosis," Leon said.

Now the nonprofit center and two other organizations offering help to those with HIV and AIDS are located under one roof near downtown Phoenix, thanks to a $3.6 million bond Phoenix voters approved in 2006 and millions more in private donations.

The Parsons Center for Health and Wellness also is home to the McDowell Healthcare Center, operated by the Maricopa Integrated Health System and a branch of Avella Specialty Pharmacy.

Located along Metro light rail, the Parsons Center brings together the largest provider of HIV-related medical care in Maricopa County and the region's only organization offering prevention programs, health services and research and clinical trials. Avella Specialty Pharmacy, meanwhile, is part of the state's AIDS Drug Assistance Program, which will move to the center next year.

"First and foremost, it is about keeping people healthy, outreach to the community, education, testing - not only for HIV but for other STDs - and educating the entire community about safe sex and about the transmission of the disease itself," City Councilman Tom Simplot said at a recent dedication ceremony.

"(HIV/AIDS) may have moved on from a death sentence to a chronic disease, but at the end of the day, we have the power to eradicate it, we just need to work together to do that," he added.

Mayor Greg Stanton said that the new center is going to provide world-class care.

"Maricopa Integrated Health System is going to have doctors and physicians inside this building," he said. "And it's going to be open to the community to have community gatherings."

Steve Purves, president and CEO of Maricopa Integrated Health System, said the McDowell Healthcare Center serves as a safety net for those with HIV/AIDS who don't have health care, and adding that that's what the partnership at the Parsons Center seeks to do.

Avella Specialty Pharmacy has been partners with the Southwest Center since the early 2000s and the company has also provided medication for the McDowell Healthcare Center, said Randle House, vice president of operations.

The Southwest Center for HIV/AIDS reaches nearly 30,000 at-risk individuals per year and participated in clinical trials for 32 of the 34 drugs on the market to treat HIV/AIDS.

Cookie King, an HIV counselor at the center who is HIV-positive, said one of the questions she gets most often is what it's like to tell someone that they're HIV-positive.

"What I say to them is: ‘Look at me, do it look like I'm dying?'" she said.

The Bob and Renee Parsons Foundation donated more than $8 million to the project.

"This building is about the hope that one day, anybody who comes down with this disease is going to be lucky like Cookie and Daniel," Bob Parsons said. "And we're going to get rid of the stigma and misunderstandings around it so we can get on with dealing with it and just live our lives."

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