Foundation is a strong advocate for South Shore AIDS patients |

Foundation is a strong advocate for South Shore AIDS patients

Susan Wood
Maxine Alper

The need for Sierra Foothill AIDS Foundation has remained steady as the disease it combats persists after thriving for almost a quarter century.

The $1.1 million AIDS service organization formed a decade ago. With an office in South Lake Tahoe, the organization helps 234 people infected with HIV out of its four offices in El Dorado, Placer and Nevada counties.

Thirty-five people on the case load live on the South Shore, of whom six are women – the demographic acknowledged for World AIDS Day today.

“Our numbers have stayed the same through the years,” said Maxine Alper, who works out of the South Shore office.

With a recent restructuring of the agency, she has been promoted to director of client services.

Eileen Valdez Woods took over as executive director to the Auburn-based organization in May, replacing Jeff Cowen, who now manages the grants program.

Valdez Woods said she’s logged at least 30 years doing social work for disenfranchised populations.

The duo has watched a few changes in how the United States has treated the disease, which claims 8,000 lives a day.

Despite the dramatic figure, there appears to be apathy from the American public, Valdez Woods said.

“There continues to be an apathy. There’s the notion that abstinence can keep people safe,” she said. Intravenous drug use continues to be one of the leading causes of the spread of HIV.

Moreover, she said the reason in part lies with people living longer while taking drugs to treat the symptoms.

“But it’s like saying leukemia is manageable. It takes away from the seriousness of it,” she said. “I think it’s because we don’t talk about sex openly.”

Valdez Woods also cites a lack of state funding as another worrisome trend – especially with a diminishing funding base for mental health programs.

That’s where the importance of fund raising comes into play, the women said. The agency was selected as a beneficiary of proceeds from Ascent, a gay ski party planned in February.

“We’re excited about it,” she said.

In California, 136,000 people have been reported with AIDS since 1981, the state Public Health Office indicated.

And the fear is the agency fails to see all who carry the infection primarily because they’re unaware they have it, public health officials warn.

“This means everybody needs to protect themselves,” Valdez Woods said.

This week, Alper is attending a conference in which the distribution of the Rapid Test will be discussed. The AIDS test, which provides results in 20 minutes, has raised a host of questions on issues ranging from regulatory use to ethical testing technology.

Other inroads into the advancement of treatment have affected Lake Tahoe.

SFAF was selected for a UC Davis study of rural areas and their populations’ risk factors.

– Susan Wood can be reached at (530) 542-8009 or via e-mail at

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