VAN NUYS, Calif.—The adult industry had good reason to celebrate on October 15. That was the day California Superior Court Judge Winifred Y. Smith granted a preliminary injunction stopping the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (CalOSHA) from forcing the Adult Industry Medical (AIM) Healthcare Foundation to release its medical records on Patient Zero, an adult performer who was found to have contracted HIV in his/her private life.
But despite that win under its belt, AIM has had to step back and reassess its own financial future... and they say it doesn't look good.
"Between the lawsuit and other expenses, we're in trouble," said AIM's chief operating officer Brooke Hunter. "We have had so many specialty attorneys on this—we have a criminal attorney, we have an OSHA specialist, we have a HIPAA specialist, and a general counsel—the amount of money that's been socked into this has been astronomical, even though they're giving us their services at cost. Still, when you have attorneys who normally bill at $350 an hour, $250 an hour, while we get a discount, it is what it is; there's still a lot of hours worked on this and there's a lot of research that had to be done.
"And we just have so many bills going out," she continued. "For one thing, there's the HIV quarantine, with the amount of people we did testing and retesting on—19 people total, including civilians, but mostly the adult industry. And it's not just the HIV, gonorrhea and Chlamydia like the normal tests. We do the HIV PCR, we do the Elisa, and for first generation who are direct exposures, we do the RNA testing. So we do three different types of HIV tests; we ran gonorrhea and Chlamydia as well; we ran syphilis and so that was a multitude of testing we have to verify and reverify the negativity."
Those tests are done at AIM's own expense, just as it did with the 2004 HIV outbreak, where upwards of 20 people were tested, "which we would want to continue to do should that occur again," Hunter noted.
Worse, Hunter and AIM founder, Dr. Sharon Mitchell, are convinced, from the recent court pleadings and other information, that CalOSHA is following an agenda whose aim, at the very least, is to compile personal information on every person, performer or not, who tests for STDs at AIM—and in a worst case scenario, the agency would like to see AIM's doors closed for good.
"It's a matter of public record, in the declarations from the people from CalOSHA, stating that they've been investigating the adult industry for five years," Hunter stated. "I don't believe that they're going to stop. I do truly believe that they will continue and go forward, so they're not only targeting AIM, it's everybody. We know what happened the last time we went around with this; they wanted to push the mandatory condom issue, and the way that works is, they're going to come in [to the industry] and try to prove the ultimate employer/employee deal, claiming that, 'You, production company, have put this employee at risk and therefore you're exposing them to OPIM—that's 'other potentially infectious materials'—which would be seminal fluid, vaginal fluid, bla-bla-bla, so let's start fining you,' and then that rapidly could turn into $100,000 in fines, so that could really become a potential problem."
Hunter also cautioned that merely because Patient Zero won a preliminary injunction to keep his/her medical records confidential, she doesn't expect CalOSHA to give up the battle.
"There's also the very good possibility that this will be appealed," she cautioned, "so we've won the battle, not the war, and the appeals process could take years, so we're not out of the woods yet by any stretch. It's not like, 'Okay, we won; thanks; see you later.' It's still continuing stuff going on."
The bottom line is, AIM, as a tax-exempt non-profit that generally operates on a shoestring, says it is rapidly going broke.
"We don't want to be dramatic about this," Hunter said, "but when our funds are being rerouted to pay for other things besides testing—not only the attorneys' fees and the free testing for the HIV outbreak, but also the OSHA compliance—it's money we haven't got. And let's not forget, OSHA did pay us a surprise inspection visit while they slapped us with a subpoena looking for medical patient records and things that they were not entitled to. When OSHA comes in, they inevitably will find something, so they have 180 days to file their report and say, 'This is what it is and this is what the fine is going to be.' We're squeaky clean here, but we're sure that they're going to find something."
Reportedly, the only irregularity CalOSHA could find during its inspection was that AIM wasn't using the latest advance in syringe technology: A plastic cap that slides over a used needle to protect its tip from coming in contact with unsuspecting passersby—even though AIM uses the familiar medical waste disposal box for all sharp objects.
Mitchell was even more blunt about the financial crisis.
"We really may close our doors if we don't raise the cash to replace what we spent to protect those patients' names," Mitchell told AVN. "I'm not bluffing at all. Eight weeks is all we've got, at best guess."
Both Mitchell and Hunter will be soliciting production companies, whose products will be most at risk if AIM closes, and others for donations.
"I mean, imagine a world without AIM," Hunter warned. "You're on the set and you go and log in to our database and there's a 404 error; no server found; can't get those records. It's critical; not only do we need to pay our current legal bills, but we need operating funds."
"We need to spend time and effort educating a lot of the companies and seeing how we can band together to make everybody compliant with current OSHA stuff," she continued, "because they're not going to stop; they're going to come at some point and continue their battle. Somebody wants to be the one to have their 15 minutes of fame, to say, 'Well, I shut down the porn industry.' And let's not forget, it's still legal to shoot adult films here; I don't believe it's legal to shoot in any other state."
In fact, shooting adult movies is currently legal in New Hampshire and New York City, but southern California has several obvious advantages over those areas.
"And I don't think California wants to lose that revenue," Hunter added. "As much as they look at us and they go, 'We don't like these people,' we do bring in good revenue to the state."
AIM is currently accepting donations, large and small, both at their offices at 4630 Van Nuys Blvd., Sherman Oaks, CA 91403, and on their website, aim-med.org, which accepts Paypal.