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Local community partners and Lutheran Social Services of Northeast Florida recognized 30 years of comprehensive HIV services on Saturday, May 21st.

The event was hosted at The Lark in downtown Jacksonville, where community members and organizations celebrated the services and its local impact. Our event sponsors were Trulieve, PRI Productions, Acentria Insurance and PVS Studios.

In Northeast Florida, the rates of HIV have been stubbornly high due to several factors, including high poverty, the lingering opioid crisis and strong social stigma. Florida has the third-highest number of cases in the United States, with Duval ranking 5th for Florida’s ranking of HIV cases in 2019.

To say the level of need is great is an understatement.

“Jacksonville fits the profile of the Southern community where the stigma of HIV forces the newly-diagnosed and the non-diagnosed alike to live in the shadows,” LSS President and CEO Bill Brim said. “Many are at risk for fear of becoming social outcasts and therefore don’t want to access care.”

The group with the highest number of people living with HIV is Black/African American with 49,943 nationwide. Despite the high numbers, there’s still much to celebrate.

The LSS ACE Program has been recognized as the HIV program with the highest viral suppression rate in Jacksonville, which is key in stopping the spread of the disease.

The LSS AIDS Care and Education (ACE) Program, established in 1992, has served 860 clients in 2021. LSS established ACE offers case management, mental health services and education for people who are HIV-positive. ACE is one of the few initiatives in Northeast Florida that provides wraparound services to HIV/AIDS patients, offering over 800 clients with access to vital services each year.

Brim said he hopes the education component of the ACE program can help connect more eligible patients with care.

“Sometimes it’s not for fear of social stigma, it’s because they heard medications cost thousands of dollars per month,” he said. Brim added that it’s likely the community is not aware of the lifeline of services, like the Ryan White program, that is there to make services more accessible.

Eligible ACE clients also have access to other LSS programs (financial and career coaching, rep payee, food pantry services, and more).

With the addition of Community Health (CAN) in 2018, LSS continues to generate more opportunities to connect patients with care that helps them function and thrive in our community.

The ACE Program works in conjunction with federal programs such as Ryan White and Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA). To learn more, visit the ACE program page.

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