‘Kindness and no judgment’: Free clinic in Palm Springs helps combat rise in STIs
By Dan Adams
Alarming new statistics from Riverside County Health Department concerning sexually transmitted infections (STI) have prompted a well known Palm Springs doctor to embark on a new medical journey.
Citing figures which show a near doubling of HIV, syphilis, chlamydia, and gonorrhea in the Coachella Valley since 2015, Dr. Phyllis Ritchie has opened an STI testing and treatment clinic that is free to all patients.
“I wanted to do something about that and make a difference and I felt financially people couldn’t afford to go get tested and treated,” Ritchie said. “I wanted to take that financial barrier and remove it.”
During the summer, in a small medical office across from Desert Regional Medical Center, Dr. Ritchie opened PS … Test. With a full time staff of three, she has tested 300 clients so far, treating dozens who tested positive for STIs. “We’re the first free test and treat STI clinic in Riverside County,” she said.
And she has paid for it all out of her own pocket.
“My husband and I wanted to make a difference in the Coachella Valley,” Ritchie said. “It’s been good to us and we wanted to give back.”
One of those patients who came in for testing is Palm Springs resident Bill Coyman. He found PS … Test by doing a Google search for STI testing and www.healthypstest.org popped up.
“This experience has been amazing,” Coyman said during a recent visit to the clinic. “For something that could be so negative, I think the patient experience is above and beyond.”
The approach that makes the patient experience “above and beyond” is one of acceptance according to Ritchie.
“My philosophy is to treat patients kindly. And to make them feel like they’re in their home, not in a sterile medical clinic.” Ritchie added. “Everyone wants to come to a doctor’s office and not get judged and that’s what we’re here for. Kindness and no judgment.”
While pharmaceutical firms who have heard about Dr. Ritchie and PS … Test have donated medication for treatment and prevention of HIV and treatment of other STIs, Ritchie is seeking a grant from Riverside County and donations from concerned members of the community.
As for continuing to fund the clinic all on her own, Dr. Ritchie admitted, “(The business model) probably is unsustainable. Hopefully we will get some more donations coming in in the near future.”
Ritchie says success will be determined in statistics gathered by Riverside County. If the incessant increase in sexually transmitted infections slows, or better yet declines, it will be an indication that her approach is working, as she says it has elsewhere.
“New York has been giving out free PREP (medication to prevent HIV infections) for years and they actually made a dent in new HIV infections and I hope we can too,” she said.
But for the patients already treated — people like Coyman — PS … Test has already been a success.
“It was warm. It was respectful of why I was coming in. It was confidential. It was very very comfortable.” Coyman said. “You can’t put a price on that.”
More information: To make a donation to PS … Test, or to make an appointment for testing and treatment of STIs, go to their webpage at www.healthypstest.org or call 760-333-8092.
EVENTS ADDED: Modernism Week plans to soon add more than 30 additional events to the 11-day festival schedule, organizers announced Monday. Included are additional tours, talks, and special events. Many are free. Check out this story for all the details.
TRIAL OPENS: Opening statements continue today in the jury trial of Jose Larin-Garcia, who is accused of a quadruple homicide in Palm Springs in February 2019. On Monday, prosecutors making opening statements painted Larin-Garcia as an “executioner” whose victims, ages 17 to 25, were found dead at two separate locations. Defense attorneys are expected to make their opening statements this morning at the Larson Justice Center in Indio. According to prosecutors, three of the victims — Jacob Montgomery, 19, Juan Duarte Raya, 18, and Yuliana Garcia, 17 — were found inside a Toyota Corolla that crashed at Sunny Dunes and El Placer roads around 11:40 PM on February 3, 2019, while the fourth, Carlos Campos Rivera, 25, was found 30 minutes later lying in the street about a half-mile away. During the defendant’s preliminary hearing, Deputy District Attorney Scot Clark said Larin-Garcia was sitting in the back seat of the Corolla when he fatally shot Rivera, 25, on Canon Drive south of Theresa Drive while the victim was standing next to or leaning inside the car. He is then alleged to have shot the other victims before fleeing the vehicle. He was discovered by police hiding under a parked vehicle a few blocks away and taken to a hospital. He later left the hospital, but was arrested at a bus station on February 5. Prosecutors on Monday showed evidence that a drug deal between Montgomery and Rivera might have been occurring at the time of the shootings.
JOB FAIRS: A reminder that Palm Springs International Airport (PSP) is holding a job fair today to help 14 tenants hire nearly 100 people for their airport business locations. The event takes place at Palm Springs Convention Center, 227 N. Avenida Caballeros, on from 10 AM until 4 PM. There are many full-time and part-time positions available. Job seekers are encouraged to visit PalmSpringsAirport.com/JobFair to view a complete list of all companies participating in the job fair. Applicants should bring plenty of resumes and be prepared to interview at the event. Although not in Palm Springs, city residents may be interested in another job fair taking place Wednesday. That one is at The Morongo Casino Resort & Spa in Cabazon, from 10 AM until 1 PM in the resort’s Grand Ballroom. On-the-spot offers are expected as the venue seeks to fill more than 200 positions. Prospects can see job listings and upload their resumes ahead of time at this website.
MIZELL EVENTS: The Mizell Center offers ballroom dancing, Tai Chi, and other classes and programs today, starting at 8 AM. The center is located at 480 South Sunrise Way. A complete list of today’s events can be found here.
CITY COUNCIL: The Palm Springs City Council holds a closed session starting at 9:30 AM. The session is a continuation of a daylong “visioning session” that started November 20. More information about the closed session can be found here.
CANDLE LIGHTING & LATKES: Or Hamidbar will celebrate Hanukkah with a candle lighting and latkes at Gré Coffeehouse & Art Gallery, 279 North Palm Canyon Dr. (in the back of the Henry Frank Arcade), tonight at 5:30 PM. Bob Hamilton will perform. For more information on the organization, turn here.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
USO GALA: The Bob Hope USO-Palm Springs, in partnership with The Management Trust, will present the 8th Annual Spirit of Hope Gala on Friday. The gala supports military service members and serves as a benefit for Palm Springs area programs and services. To purchase tickets to The Spirit of Hope Gala, visit this link.
TREE LIGHTING, PARADE: The 29th Annual Palm Springs Festival of Lights Parade will return to Palm Canyon Drive at 5:45 PM on Saturday. On Friday evening, residents are invited to the Official City of Palm Springs Holiday Tree Lighting at 5:15 PM at Frances Stevens Park, 500 North Palm Canyon Drive.
ART CENTER EVENT: The Desert Art Center, located at 550 North Palm Canyon Drive in uptown Palm Springs, hosts “Deck the Walls,” a new Winter show in the main gallery, on Friday. That event is from 5 PM until 7 PM.
COMMUNITY CLEAN-UP: The next in a series of community clean-up events takes place Saturday, December 4, starting at 8 AM. Anyone interested in helping pick up litter in the city is invited to gather at the Union Bank parking lot, 500 South Indian Canyon Dr. Supplies will be provided.
DESERT JAM: The annual benefit for Palm Springs-based Well in the Desert — Desert Jam 2021: Jammin’ for the Well — is slated for Monday, December 6 at the Agua Caliente Resort Casino ballroom in Rancho Mirage at 6 PM. All proceeds benefit The Well’s work to feed and provide for those experiencing homelessness in our community. More information, including how to purchase tickets for the event, can be found here or by calling 760-285-7297.
POLICE AND FIRE EVENT: The Palm Springs Chamber of Commerce is taking reservations for its annual Police & Fire Appreciation Luncheon, held Tuesday, December 7, from 11:30 AM until 1 PM at the Palm Springs Convention Center. More information about tickets and sponsorship opportunities is available here.
STRUT AWARDS VOTING: Voting has started for the STRUT Awards, slated to be handed out next month in Palm Springs. The STRUT Awards are a people’s choice voting event designed to honor members of the local LGBTQ+ industry. Nominations were accepted in more than two dozen categories, and now it’s time to vote. You can do that by going here. Winners will be announced and celebrated on December 12 during an event at Margaritaville Palm Springs beginning at 6 PM. Tickets for the event can be purchased here.
MOBILE CHRISTMAS: Well in the Desert is again planning its annual Christmas event as a mobile event due to COVID-19 restrictions. The drive-up event will be held Saturday, December 18, from 11:30 AM until 3 PM at The United Methodist Church, 1555 East Alejo Rd. Volunteers will distribute a frozen turkey and pie, as well as gifts for children to open on Christmas Day, to any family in need. Donations can be dropped off at churches where The Well serves hot meals, between 11 AM and 1 PM: Mondays and Tuesdays: United Methodist, 1555 East Alejo Rd.; Wednesdays: Church of St. Paul’s, 125 West El Alameda; Thursdays: Our Lady of Solitude, 151 West Alejo Rd.; and Fridays: Our Lady of Guadalupe, 204 South Calle El Segundo.