To mark the 35th year of World AIDS Day on Friday, St. Mary Medical Center unveiled an expansion of its CARE Center — a new facility that will offer more services and resources to the city’s LGBTQ+ community.

Once made up of offices scattered around the medical center’s campus, the CARE Center at Dignity Health now sits in one consolidated facility that has almost double the number of rooms to see patients, funded much through the St. Mary Medical Center Foundation’s $2.3 million CARE expansion project.

Founded in 1986 during the rise of the AIDS crisis, the CARE Center has served the LGBTQ+ community for more than three decades, offering services like HIV medical and health care, a food pantry, STI testing and treatments and PrEP HIV preventative care.

“We’ve always treated everyone with respect and dignity,” said Paul Lovely, executive director of the CARE Center. “It’s important for our patients to know how much they’re worth to us.”

The new 20,000 square-foot center offers updated equipment, behavioral health services, support groups, counseling and therapy sessions and art workshops, according to Lovely.

Local artist Sergio Ramirez, who has been a patient since 2013 and whose work has helped him through his journey, painted a piece for the new space called “Faith,” which features angels with “healing wings.”

“The clinic has been like family to me – I feel super safe,” said Ramirez.

On opening day, CARE Center community members celebrated the memory of those who have died from AIDS and commemorated the pioneers of HIV treatment.

“CARE has been here since the beginning,” said Lovely. “And we will be here until the end.”

Appointments can be made and more information on the CARE Center can be found here.

Dignity Health – St. Mary’s Medical Center is located at 1050 Linden Ave.

Maison Tran is a fellow at the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected].