Wilbert Cornelius Jordan (1944–2023)
Wilbert Cornelius Jordan started the Oasis Clinic in Los Angeles, California, in 1979. This clinic treated some of the first patients who suffered from human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), before the disease had even been clinically observed. Over the next two decades, Jordan treated more than 3,000 clinically diagnosed HIV/AIDS patients. He was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2000.
A Los Angeles native, Wilbert C. Jordan was born on September 11, 1944, and grew up in Arkansas. He attended Marian Anderson High School in Brinkley (Monroe County) before entering Horace Mann High School in Little Rock (Pulaski County) for his final year, graduating in 1961. He graduated from Harvard University in 1966 and received his MD from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1971. From 1972 to 1973, he was an intern and junior resident in internal medicine at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. In 1976, as a Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholar, he received his master of public health (MPH) degree at the University of California at Los Angeles Medical Center, where he also completed residencies in internal medicine and infectious diseases.
Jordan was involved with HIV/AIDS from the beginning of the epidemic. “I treated my first patient in 1979, [but] I didn’t know what he had,” Jordan said. “And when the CDC report came out in 1981, I called him back and I told him, ‘I think I know what you have now.’” Early on, he knew that to make a significant impact on the lives of people living with HIV, especially people of color who are often underserved, the whole person had to be addressed. He came to understand that people living with HIV needed not only medicines for treatment but also help in facing the stigma, food insecurity, insufficient housing, sexual violence, and psychological trauma they experienced. Because there was no place for people in need of HIV services to go in South Los Angeles, Jordan established a medical clinic that would be an oasis for them. In one case, Jordan was approached by an addict asking for money. Across the street was a mobile health unit whose workers were seeking drug users to test for HIV infection. Jordan struck a deal with the man—if he brought Jordan a person who was at risk for HIV infection, he would receive some money. From this beginning, the Oasis Clinic was established.
Jordan learned from his encounter with his first group of patients that patients themselves often know who is at risk, and so he regularly invited people to bring someone they knew to the clinic for HIV testing—testing showed that nearly half (48 percent) of those patients were HIV-positive. Many of the people who came to the clinic lacked the means to secure the proper treatment. Jordan himself was inspired to help these patients by the death of a close friend who succumbed to AIDS early in the epidemic, when people were ostracized due to ignorance of the disease. Few doctors were reaching out to African Americans at the time, and this friend was abandoned by his wife and denied interaction with his children.
With more than half of the new cases of HIV in the United States reportedly being African Americans, Jordan insisted that the approach to dealing with infection rates in the Black community could not be the same as that for white gay men. He argued that the approach had to be comprehensive and reflect a combination of mobilizing the community, addressing the needs of the whole person, increasing HIV/AIDS literacy, directly addressing stigma, and fostering cultural awareness and competence in health professionals.
In 1990, Jordan was put on a five-year probation by the Medical Board of California after having pleaded guilty, three years prior, to a misdemeanor charge of fraudulent Medicare billing.
In addition to his directorship at his Oasis Clinic, he also became the director at the Los Angeles County Martin Luther King Jr. Outpatient Center and an associate professor of internal medicine at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science (CDU).
Jordan was the recipient of the United States Surgeon General’s Award (2000); Black AIDS Institute Hero in the Struggle award (2001); Bishop Leontine T.C. Kelly Award for Courage (2013); Better Brothers Los Angeles Advocate Award (2015); and CDU Legacy Leaders award (2017). Jordan was honored by the Los Angeles Sentinel and the Student National Medical Association (which created the Dr. Wilbert C. Jordan Research Forum), and he was named Doctor of the Year three times by the Charles R. Drew Medical Society. In 2002, he was the first recipient of the B.E.T. Community Service Pioneers Award.
Jordan continued his Arkansas ties, owning land in Wheatley (St. Francis County). He died in April 2023.
For additional information:
Steinbrook, Robert. “Prominent Doctor Put on 5-Year Probation.” Los Angeles Times, June 9, 1990. Online at https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1990-06-09-me-656-story.html (accessed April 20, 2023).
“Wilbert C. Jordan, MD.” Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science. https://www.cdrewu.edu/people/wilbert-c-jordan-md-mph (accessed April 20, 2023).
Black AIDS Institute
Wilbert was a good friend during our years at Harvard College, and I was lucky to reconnect with him several years ago. He in L.A., a mutual friend from college, David N. Strand in Honolulu, and I in Silver Spring, MD, enjoyed occasional Zoom get togethers and in fact I was planning to organize another one when I learned he had passed. I knew of his incredible accomplishments, but we spoke of more personal things. He was always fascinating and funny, with a keen eye for racial issues, including tales of his youth in Wheatley, AR.
Dr. Jordan was an incredible physician and scientist as well as mentor. He practiced his craft with cutting-edge thought, rigorous science, and most importantly, cultural sensitivity, compassion, and empathy. He will be sorely missed and fondly remembered.
I remember hearing Dr. Wilbert C. Jordan speak during the Arkansas Medical Dental and Pharmaceutical Association Annual Scientific Sessions in the early 1990s. I had served as an NHSC dentist in Immokalee, Florida, and saw numerous HIV patients (1987-1989). His presentations were informative and colorful. He will be missed.
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