Lucia thumbs through documents with information for HIV patients. By Carla G. Colomé.

Most days of the week, Lucia stands with a friend outside Yankee Stadium selling Dominican sweet beans. She’s lived in the Bronx for a year, ever since she left the Dominican Republic in search of a better job and a healthy life for herself as an HIV patient.

Lucia, who has asked to protect her real name and other personal information, carried several medications with her on her long journey to the Mexican border, which she did with the help of a coyote. Once in New York, she needed more medication, but didn’t feel safe enough to reach out for medical care.

“I was afraid of going to the doctor and being deported,” the 51-year-old said.

A friend told her about Dr. Fernando S. Mora-McLaughlin of Gotham Health Morrisania, where HIV patients can get free care regardless of their immigration status.

Since then, Lucia has been receiving her pills and getting regular screenings, free of charge, and without worrying that her HIV status will lead to her deportation.

In 2022, Bronx and Brooklyn counties experienced the highest number of new HIV diagnoses, according to the most recent report from the HIV Epidemiology Program of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Among those affected in the Bronx, Blacks and Latinos/Hispanics ranked highest for new diagnoses, according to the report released in November 2023.

According to Dr. Mora-McLaughlin, many migrants with HIV are unaware that New York State guarantees them free health insurance and care.

“Migrants are afraid to say they have HIV, they think that since they don’t have insurance, they won’t be treated. But it’s not like that,” the specialist in internal medicine and HIV said.

“Even if you don’t have money, or you are undocumented, you can access any of the systems, whether private, public or voluntary,” he said.

Jesús Aguais, president of Aid for Aids, a non-profit that helps HIV patients internationally, said New York has always been in the forefront of treating people with a positive diagnosis.

“They have never asked for immigration status to receive help, which is a very smart thing to do, because HIV doesn’t ask for a passport, it doesn’t ask for nationality, and it’s a situation that affects all of us,” he said.

Aid for Aids has a specific program to help immigrants with HIV and raise awareness of free services available to them.

“The job is to get the information out to everyone,” Aguais said. “Accessing treatment is the key and New York is the place to seek it. We need to take into account the migrant population that is arriving. HIV, no one seeks it. HIV comes.”

Dr. Mora-McLaughlin says that with each wave of arrivals, the number of immigrant HIV patients coming to his practice increases.

The first thing an HIV patient arriving in the Bronx should do is locate a health center, clinic, or hospital with services for HIV patients, he said. The patient will be told that he or she is entitled to the AIDS Drug Assistance Program, known as ADAP.

“With that insurance, you are entitled to go to a pharmacy to pick up medications. That insurance would pay for all medical care,” Dr. Mora-McLaughlin said. It will even cover hospital stays, he said.

What is ADAP, who can apply and how does it benefit the patient?

  • ADAP is one of the programs offered by the New York State Department of Health AIDS Institute to provide access to health care for HIV-infected persons who have no or limited health insurance.
  • The program is fully committed to patient confidentiality and does not contact employers, landlords, family members or anyone directly related to the applicant.
  • Once a patient fills out the application form to enroll, they must provide proof of New York State residency, proof of income of less than $65,000 per year, and a medical application signed by a licensed medical professional verifying HIV status.
  • Patients will have an enrollment card that is used to receive care from an enrolled provider.
  • The list of services that ADAP patients can benefit from can be found here.

New Yorkers can get more information about HIV treatment by texting 55676. There are also many organizations that an HIV patient can go to for information, counseling, or help. Here are a few in the South Bronx:

Citiwide Harm Reduction Program, Inc.

226 East 144th Street

(718) 292-7718

Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center

234 East 149th St Rm Z A1

(718) 579-5139

Dennelisse Corporation

349 East 149th Street Suite 605 (6th floor)

(718) 993-5580

New York Harm Reduction Educators, Inc.

148th St Between Bergen & Brook Avenues

(718) 842-6050

-Morris Heights Health Center

625 East 137th Street

(718) 483-1270

-United Bronx Parents

773 Prospect Avenue

(718) 960-7575

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