The need for an organization such as Brown Family Health Center Inc., grew out of a desire to meet the needs of two grieving mothers who had just lost their sons in 1988 to AIDS. They formed a support group for similar family members and friends, but soon realized that there were other unmet needs in the community. At that point they approached the first Director, Jerry Permenter, who organized the Nacogdoches AIDS Project. Because of the need to provide more than just support services (and to include the other surrounding counties), Mr. Permenter and his Board of Directors decided to change the name of the newly founded organization from the Nacogdoches AIDS Project, to the East Texas AIDS Project (ETAP). By July 1, 1990, the grass root organization had been in existence for one year and had been 100% self-supported. Later, Mr. Permenter and his Board decided to apply for grants, because their initial funding was insufficient to meet the growing needs of the HIV/AIDS population. At that time, clients ranged in age from 4 to 65, and all indicated a need for assistance. Some of the earlier services included: medical referrals, pharmaceutical information, free professional counseling, free professional health care, evaluations, pre and post HIV Test counseling, referrals for HIV testing, group support, education, the buddy system and practical health needs including transportation and food. In the early years, ETAP met the second Monday of each month in the Boardroom of the Nacogdoches Memorial Hospital, from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m.
The first Board of Directors listed in the Articles of Incorporation, (filed on June 25, 1990 with the Secretary of State), consisted of: Jerry Permenter, Barbara J. Cordel, Marcella Moody, and Kenneth King. One of the most pressing issues they faced at that time, was the community's lack of education re: HIV/AIDS. On November 19, 1989 in the Daily Sentinel, an article titled "Local AIDS Support Group Helping Others in Coping", made it very clear that work needed to be done on educating the community. Mr. Permenter was quoted as saying that one family member was so fearful of HIV/AIDS that when their son (living in a mobile home on their property) died, they burned their mobile home for fear of catching the disease. Ms. Laverne Neille (the woman responsible for Mr. Permenter starting the Support Group), in that same article, said when her son wanted to come home to Nacogdoches to die, they received no reassurance that anyone would provide the necessary home health care needed to facilitate his needs. Thankfully, Mr. Permenter and the Board became a needed resource in the community.
Other problems faced by the organization included that of preparing and developing by-laws and Articles of Incorporation. They also needed help to obtain a facility to accommodate the growing staff, and to acquire adequate services for all the clients. Primary medical and HIV care were critical. At that time there were only a limited number of physicians in the area who treated HIV/AIDS clients. One reason for this was that they lacked experience in treating the HIV/AIDS population. Thus, arrangements were made to transport the clients to Houston and to the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston for treatment. Such extensive travel proved to be a hardship on patients suffering from HIV/AIDS.
In a grant application dated July 1, 1990, Mr. Permenter indicated that clients ranged in age from 4 to 65, and they all desperately needed assistance. No other demographic information was provided, although Mr. Permenter indicated he had seen "this silent devastation in the gay community". The death rate among these early clients was extremely high. In Angelina County it was 55%, 83% in Shelby, 60% in Nacogdoches, and 50% in San Augustine and Sabine. This could have been attributed to a number of factors, including a lack of knowledge by those infected with HIV/AIDS.
Only one of the clients who received services in the early days still lives today. He was very active in his treatment when he lived in the area. He also guided the organization in reaching goals that benefited all clients. One such benefit was the push for local primary care for all HIV/AIDS clients. One of the first initiatives articulated by the first Director in February 1995, was to bring primary care to this area for the HIV/AIDS clients. Several attempts were made, including that of hiring two nurse practitioners. The nurse practitioners helped develop medical policies and protocol for treating the clients.
In 1997 the organization entered into a contract with an HIV clinic in Houston. One of the physicians at the clinic had previously attended Stephen F. Austin State University. A clinic was held in our area, with monthly rotations between Nacogdoches, Livingston, and Crockett. This lasted for a couple of years, and enabled the organization to obtain an Early Intervention grant from the Texas Department of Health. Through that grant, we hired a full time Nurse Practitioner, who was supervised by an infectious disease specialist from Livingston. The nurse practitioner treated the clients on a full time basis. When the TDH grant ended, The Resource Group of Houston applied for a federal grant to establish a rural network of HIV providers. We welcomed the opportunity to participate with them. In 2002, the nurse practitioner left, so we entered an agreement with an Infectious Disease Specialist. Our clinic now provides HIV care and Primary Care to the HIV/AIDS population. As a result, we have seen health indicators such as the CD4 count, the viral load, TB test, other immunizations, pap smears, and other indicators improve tremendously per all our clients. Thus, overall health has also improved.
Over the years, there have been a number of client-centered initiatives. One such initiative was changing the name from the East Texas AIDS Project to Health Horizons of East Texas, Inc. in 1996. This was done to protect the confidentiality of those who were accessing services offered by the agency.
Primary care for clients evolved over the years, from the patients receiving primary care from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, to today where our organization provides primary care and HIV/AIDS treatment in-house. In fact, our Infectious Disease Specialist holds clinic twice a week in our new facility, and last year we treated thousands of patients.
In addition to the primary care mentioned above, today we provide medical case management, dental care, eye care, medication assistance, mental health counseling, medical transportation, health insurance assistance, food pantry, utility assistance, long term rent, and community self-help programs, to name just a few.
In 2001, we moved into a larger suite of offices in downtown Nacogdoches. That space provided room for the primary care and HIV treatment, yet we knew we would eventually need more space. In 2001, we also obtained funding to update all of the computers. Since that time, we have updated computers through non-restricted funds. In 1999, we received a grant from the Texas Department of Transportation. That grant helped us purchase a handicapped assistance van, and in 2001, we received that grant from the Texas Department of Health, AKA the Texas Department of State Health Services. The grant helped us purchase an additional minivan for medical transportation.
From the beginning, we tested at-risk residents for HIV/AIDS and provided counseling services. Over the years, prevention activities have evolved from just testing and counseling, to a process that is referred to as Protocol Based Counseling Services. The same protocol is now used all over the state. Such evidence-based intervention is offered to help reduce high-risk behaviors for men and women who are sexually active.
It is important to note that not only has HIV status been reported to well over 50,000 people over the last 28 years and counting, but thousands of residents have also been linked to needed services. Thus, we are confident that our work has prevented tens of thousands of people from contracting HIV/AIDS.
In 2015, Dr. Wilbert Brown, Jr, (the longest serving Executive Director to date: 1995 - 2017), created the Primary Care Initiative. Thus, re-branding the organization (formerly known as Health Horizons of East Texas), to include all levels of patient care per the HIV/AIDS population, as well as the population in general. In honor of Dr. Brown's life time of service, financial acumen, superior grant writing skills, phenomenal program development initiatives, signature special events and vision & commitment to build a State-of the-Art medical facility, in 2016 the name was changed to Brown Family Health Center Inc.
In conclusion, our wonderful clients, dedicated staff, generous funders and supportive community-at-large, has enabled Brown Family Health Center, Inc. to serve those most in need for over 28 years. And with continued support, we'll be able to do so for many years to come. Thank you!