Ace Robinson

Ace Robinson

Ace Robinson, the newly installed executive director for the C.A.R.E. (Comprehensive AIDS Resource and Education) program at Dignity Health — St. Mary Medical Center, started his career thousands of miles from Long Beach. But his mission has always been the same.

“My career has been focused on how to reduce the impact of HIV and AIDS for impacted populations,” Robinson explained.

Earlier in his career, that meant working with commercial sex workers in West Africa.

“I spent a lot of time working on developing best practices and looking at systems — how to increase the standard of life and quality of life for all individuals,” the trained biochemist said. “These young women and girls really had a lot more challenges than dealing with their sexual health.”

In West Africa, Robinson worked with an organization that was trying to develop a vaccine for HIV. His motivation for getting into this line of work, he explained, was personal.

“As a younger black gay man in the late 90’s and early 00’s, it became clear that more and more people who were becoming infected by HIV looked like me and/or lived their lives like me,” he said. “More had to be done to support my communities and other communities being ravaged by the virus.”

For 30 years, St. Matthew Catholic Church has been reaching out to the gay and lesbian community through Comunidad. The program is part of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’s Catholic Ministry of Gay and Lesbian Persons (CMLGP), founded in 1986 by then-Archbishop Roger Mahony.

Now, in his position at C.A.R.E., Robinson is bringing his expertise stateside.

“It’s an exciting time, with the diversity of services we offer and groups we support,” Robinson said. “We make sure we are an opening, welcoming environment for people from all walks of life.”

That means everyone — from the intake person behind the desk to the medical specialists — should make clients feel comfortable and safe, he said. And he said it’s something at which Dignity Health, and C.A.R.E., excel.

“They’re about meeting you where you are,” he said.

Dignity Health —St. Mary Medical Center, founded in 1923 by the Sisters of the Incarnate Word, has a long tradition of caring for patients with HIV and AIDS.

The sisters founded C.A.R.E. 30 years ago — back when the prognosis for those living with HIV was grim, and fear dominated the landscape.

“Some hospitals were turning people away,” Robinson said. “A lot of people were being left to hospice care, or no care at all… The sisters really took it upon themselves to say, ‘These are human beings and we need to love them unconditionally.’”

Since C.A.R.E was established three decades ago, the program has provided comprehensive services to hundreds of people, regardless of race, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status.

The care clients receive include primary care, behavior care support, and medical care coordination, Robinson said. And C.A.R.E. also has a dental program and food pantry stocked with healthy items.

C.A.R.E. partners with other healthcare organizations to provide a continuum of care, Robinson said, and collaborates with organizations like The LGBT Center, too.

Thirty-nine years after The Center began as a gathering place to discuss gay rights, The LGBTQ Center of Long Beach continues to grow.

“One of our best community partners is The Center,” he said. “We’ve been doing a lot of collaborating, since the Orlando massacre… The Center is having grief counselors there, and we’re making sure our clients know that. This type of event might bring back some (difficult) memories.”

As Robinson settles into his leadership role, and as C.A.R.E. moves into its fourth decade of service, he said he plans to make sure people are educated about HIV. He cited PrEP (Pre-exposure prophylaxis) as one tool he’d like to make sure more people know about. PrEP is a pill that people who are at high risk for HIV infection can take. It reduces the risk of contracting the virus by 92%, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

“Condoms obviously work, but people forget, or don’t use them, for a variety of reasons,” he said. “PrEP is another tool in the toolbox that gives people a bit more control over their sexual health.”

Drug users, people with more than one partner, and those who do not know their partner’s HIV status are among those who would benefit from PrEP, he added. Dignity Health’s emergency department also is piloting a program where people opt-out of HIV testing, rather than opting-in.

“Knowledge is power, is always our piece,” he said.

And the ultimate goal for C.A.R.E. is to eliminate new infections altogether, finally beating back the disease.

“All it takes is a little bit more awareness,” Robinson said. “Without that final push, we’re not going to finish this. And we have an opportunity to finish this.”

For more information about C.A.R.E., visit http://bit.ly/28QRy17.

Jennifer Rice Epstein can be reached at jriceepstein@gazettes.com.

Jennifer Rice Epstein writes about business, environmental issues and K-12 education. Her essays and reporting also have appeared in The Morning News, Vice and LA Weekly, among others. She lives with her family in Bixby Knolls and tweets about Long Beach.

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