Ten years and running for any organization is worthy of a moment to pause to appreciate the milestone.
A group like Latinos Salud has many traits and driving forces that have propelled it squarely into the consciousness of South Florida since its humble beginning in 2008.
Latinos Salud has enough history in the rearview, enough lessons learned, that it feels right to take a look back. And as it continues to work within its vision and mission day by day, it has found a way to expand and keep an eye on the future as well.
None of those pieces are small or easy to navigate.
But first things first: Latinos Salud (“health” in Spanish) was founded to “create a safe space for Latino gay guys and their partners to find friends, support and resources.”
What the staff likes to say, and what those who access its services, is that while Latinos Salud is all about health outcomes, it runs its programs in ways that don’t feel like big, stuffy, clinical doctor’s offices.
And that’s by design.
One important caveat that belies the name: The “Latinos” in Latinos Salud is a focus, not an exclusion. Non-Latino partners of Latino boyfriends are welcome to access resources and services, said Executive Director Stephen Fallon.
State of Affairs
Fallon cofounded Latinos Salud with Rafaelé Narváez, director of health programs.
The two have placed the organizationin a strategic position to maintain relevance for another 10 years and beyond, and actually help those in need — namely addressing concerns for minority communities.
“Too many gay Latinos are unaware of,or scared to access [HIV/AIDS] care inSouth Florida,” Fallon said.
Fallon explains that Florida has grown quickly (adding snowbirds, white and older residents). It is a state that is in many ways trying to catch up with the realities of immigration trends, he said. It doesn’t help, said Fallon, that Tallahassee and its policymakers are very far removed, literally and otherwise, from much of the culture of South Florida.
“I was at a dinner party a few months ago and someone asked me: ‘What’s going on with all the new HIV infections?’ Before I could answer, people were putting a blame (drug use, promiscuity, alcohol use) on it versus a cause,” Fallon said.
“People think: ‘If they look different from me, they must be making bad decisions,’” Fallon added.
Why it Matters
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also reports that new HIV cases are decreasing for all demographic andbehavioral groups except for two: gay Latinos andyounger gay people (ages 25 to 34, which also includes younger gay Latinos).
In other words: Miami-Dade and Broward are ground zero for new HIV infections in the U.S.
“Many are immigrants, or are raised by immigrants from monolingual households,” Fallonsaid. “Many come from home countries that have no sex education; they don’t know what to do if they’re gay; there’s no health care to seek.”
Fallon explained that the stigmas in play for gay Latinos who are considering coming out and being open with their partners also include dealing with ultra conservative and religious families.
“Many clients test positive after being with a partner who said there would be nothing to worry about,” he said.
“With proper care,a 30-year old diagnosed with HIV today can expect to live to 45 more years,” Fallon said. “Yet inSouth Florida, in part because of late diagnoses, the average gay Latinolives less than eight years after diagnosis.”
Fallon said there are major changes going on in the HIV space — the “medicalization of HIV prevention.
“There are tools in the arsenal that weren’t proven a decade ago,” Fallon said. “You used to only have two options — a condom forever, or get a new HIV test and pledge monogamy.”
Now, he said, for an HIV negative partner there is the PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) option. Those at high risk for HIV can take PrEP each day to dramatically lower the chances of getting infected.
And for those who are HIV positive, there are now proven and successful treatments that help them live longer and not transmit the virus “even on nights that a condom might be forgotten,” Fallon said.
But, even with the early success of PrEP, Fallon and virtually anyone in the communicable disease space still recommend condoms always be used.
“In the real world our No. 1 goal is HIV. That’s the killer as opposed to the inconvenience. We’re about bringing the epidemic down. HIV is $450,000 in lifetime treatment costs,” Fallon said.
Fallon said, however, that the new and exciting tools in HIV prevention and treatment tend to be mostly benefiting those who already have good health care access.
Last year, for example, 70 percent of new prescriptions for PrEP were to white gay men, while the most devastated groups are Latino and black gay men.
“The good news is that at least for now there’s only one drug for PrEP and the manufacturer has an access program,” Fallonsaid. “There are hoops to jump through and paperwork, but we help the clients whether there is insurance or no insurance.”
Latinos Salud works with clients to not only get PrEP, but also the requisite lab work associated with it — for free.
“[But] we’re so much more than HIV prevention. It’s the intersectionality — HIV is often the cause of other struggles,” Fallon said.
Unique Leaders, Advocates
He eventually went out on his own and consulted for the CDC, Health Resources & Services Administration and for providers in the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program.
Fallon has worked in the industry in 42 states. He’s known as highly adept at setting up programs and training staff. He helps groups get vital funding and be more effective.
Those are the skills and experience it took to launch Latinos Salud.
“My staff, either through good collaborations or direct services, sets out to serve the whole person,” Fallon said.
Most of thestaff are themselves either immigrants or first-generation residents in theU.S., with families from Chile, Colombia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, Puerto Rico, Spain, and Venezuela.
“As a result, they understand thecultural norms that impact health and behaviors,” he said.
Wilton and Beyond
Latinos Salud’s original location is in Wilton Manors. They have recently expanded to an upgraded southwest Miami location in Westchester. The third site is in Miami Beach.
The group’s first grant was initiated in January 2009.
“We opened with just two and one-quarter paid staff,” Fallon said. (He was the one-quarter.)
The first space was off an alley from Wilton Drive in about 800 square feet.
At that time, Latinos Salud had one program: HIV prevention education for gay Latino youth.
Fallon said at the time the population had just experienced a 185 percent increase in new infections in Broward over the prior six years.
“As we served these young men and they brought their friends and partners, some of whom were older, we responded to requests to add programs and services to now serve Latinos of all ages,” Fallon said.
“Where we used to refer out for HIV testing, we soon added in-house testing, and we were the first agency in the county to implement the highly sensitive fourth-generation testing,” he said.
After that, Latinos Salud added one-on-one counseling for people living with HIV (life coaching); added STD screening; Ryan White case management (in Broward), the Miami Beach location, the Westchester location, did clinical studies; and launched a new DiversiSAFE intervention.
They now have 27 full-time staff.
So while the vision hasn’t changed, said Fallon, a closer look at the mission statement tells a bit more.
“Latinos Salud exists to provide client-centered, culturallycompetent health education and integrated preventive, screening, and linkageservices throughout South Floridain order to reduce the burden of communicablediseases and improve health outcomes.”
To do that, it now serves all Latinogay, bisexual or otherwise identified Men Who Have Sex with Men (MSM) living with HIV, and all persons who identify as transgender.
The scope of services is impressive by any industry standard and there are too many to list in this profile. There are too many achievements to list here as well.
A few: Latinos Salud provides nearly 5,000 HIV and 6,000 STD tests each year, targeted to the communities at greatest risk. It diagnoses a client about every 60thtest it conducts.
The organization gets a wide range of funding. A full list of its free services and more information is available at .
Latinos Salud 10thAnniversary Gala Celebration
WHEN: Saturday, Feb. 2 at 7 p.m. (VIP event at 6 p.m.)
WHERE: Design Center of the Americas (DCOTA) 1855 Griffin Rd., Dania Beach. Free parking.
TICKETS: For special ticket pricing, write to Latinos Salud directly at [email protected]or call 954-765-6239.