Albion Monitor /Commentary

The Unkindest Cuts

by Sara Peyton

Cutbacks at Face to Face

When my children were still in diapers, not the blossoming teens they are today, I assumed there would be a cure for AIDS by now. Instead, fears about HIV and AIDS haunt today's youth.

From the beginning of the AIDS pandemic, I held the belief that everyone, including my young sons, had the right to up-to-the-minute information about HIV. At first, my own need to provide news to my children drew me to write about the deadly virus, the people who became infected with it, and the people who provided support for the sick and the dying. And for years, my guide into HIV territory has been Rick Dean, the associate director of Face to Face.

For 11 years, this exceptional Sonoma County organization has offered practical and loving support to those affected by HIV. Dean, with the agency for 9 years, provides a steadying influence, and it's his calm, friendly voice that responds to my call after I learn that the nationally-acclaimed agency plans to eliminate four long-term staff positions in July.

"It angers me that we have to have these cutbacks," says Dean, who for as long as I have known him, has never raised his voice or sounded irritated. He doesn't sound angry now. But there's a hint of weariness, some sadness."The numbers of clients have not decreased. We're going to have to do the same or more work with less people."

"What we do saves so much money"

Face to Face started in a former dog grooming shop near Guerneville. There, and with only a few employees and nearly 100 volunteers, the agency thrived. Indeed, Sonoma County's bucolic environment, slower pace of life, peaceful majesty of towering redwoods did not prevent HIV from infiltrating. During the early 80s, in the Russian River area -- a summer resort area long popular with San Francisco gays and lesbians -- gay men began getting sick with a mysterious disease just as they were falling ill in San Francisco and New York City. Back then some men were dying without family or friends near or sensitive medical providers for treatment. A nurturing care movement began -- manned largely by volunteers -- that ultimately influenced the way seriously ill people are cared for nationwide.

Now based in Santa Rosa, Face to Face helped 1,058 people last year, a dramatic 41 percent increase over 1994. "In the early days we mainly offered practical care and emotional support," explains Dean. "But as people started living longer and peoples' needs changed, we added new services like benefits counseling, an education program and speakers' bureau, and a street outreach and prevention program. Today, the county has the highest per capita incidence rate of HIV infection of any rural-suburban county in the United States. "One of the reasons we have to cut jobs is because of state cutbacks. But it's really shortsighted to cut by 16 percent a program as vital as attendant and nursing care. What we do saves so much money," Dean notes.

In fact, a recent study found that Sonoma County has the lowest cost of care per AIDS cases per year. The county also has the lowest rate of hospital utilizations. This welcome information is a direct benefit of the availability of Face to Face services.

"Some people want to pretend that AIDS will go away soon"

For Dean, bad news is part of his daily work. More a calling than a job he admits to feeling depressed some days. "As a gay man I've seen whole groups of friends lost. That's pretty tough to deal with. I've lost co-workers and volunteers. There's a lot of loss. We also have many support systems in place to deal with loss. It's a loving, supportive environment to work in. That's the part that keeps me here. Where else can I go and work with people like this?"

Dean hurries to add that his own noble outlook is no different from others he works with every day. "People who work here are drawn to this kind of work. They didn't just choose it out of the newspaper. Everyone is working for less money than they would get on the outside. It's amazing that so many people choose to do this on a daily basis.

One major component of Dean's job is fundraising. In the face of cutbacks the agency hopes to double its volunteer base and increase donations. Indeed, for the next three weekends Dean's schedule sounds like one long fundraising event. "Let's see I'm doing a beer fest, the Human Race, and a golf tournament," he laughs. "We've had some good talks with foundations lately and they seem interested in our work."

But he adds somberly. "Still some people want to pretend that AIDS will go away soon. But the people who are paying attention know, the epidemic is not going away."

For more information about Face to Face, to learn more about its volunteer training, or to make a donation, call 707-544-1581, or write, 873 Second Street, Santa Rosa, CA 95404.

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Albion Monitor May 5, 1996 (

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