The Mission to End AIDS

K. Scott Carruthers and the AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s cutting-edge medicine and advocacy works for patients around the globe who are most in need

Way back in 1951, a thirteen-year-old boy named Scott Carruthers got his first job. He would hop on his bicycle and deliver prescription drugs and sundry items to customers of a pharmacy in San Diego, California. Sixty-six years later, Carruthers is still delivering medication, but now he needs more than a bike to do it. As chief pharmacy officer and senior manager at the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), Carruthers is helping the organization deliver on its mission to rid the world of AIDS.

Having turned seventy-nine, Carruthers has no intention of walking away from the only career he has ever had. “I am having too much fun to retire,” Carruthers explains. “I enjoy working for a great organization. They will have to carry me out feet-first to get me to stop.”

Carruthers was born in Phoenix, and his family moved to the San Diego area when he was an infant. He got that first job from a pharmacist named Guy Combs, who promoted him from delivery boy to soda jerk, and then to all-around helping hand. “By the time I was sixteen or seventeen, Guy had his own pharmacy, and I continued to work for him,” Carruthers says. “He was a good mentor and a father figure to me.” Combs encouraged Carruthers to go to pharmacy school, and he even accompanied him on his interview at the University of Southern California School of Pharmacy.

After completing his prepharmacy degree at San Diego State, Carruthers earned his doctor of pharmacy degree from USC. He returned to San Diego to work for Combs, who by then owned three pharmacies. “I floated among all three,” Carruthers says. A few years later, he formed a partnership to buy his own pharmacy and went out on his own for about four years. From there, he moved into servicing nursing homes. “Pharmacies weren’t providing all the services that Medicare mandated, and I thought that would be an interesting and pioneering thing to do,” he says. So he sold his pharmacy and started a new business. “I went knocking on doors, learned how to sell, and built a long-term care business,” he says.  He ran that for about four years before selling to a larger company located in Seattle.

Carruthers was in the long-term care pharmacy business for about twenty-five years, until changes in the business landscape and his growing family—he and his wife, Judi, who now live in the Los Angeles suburb Temple City, have six children—convinced him to make another change. “I was missing too many soccer games and other activities, so I went to Rite Aid and worked the graveyard shift so I could attend my kids’ functions,” he says. “I didn’t miss a single soccer game my daughter played in high school and college.”

“No matter how tough the day was, I know we have done something pretty special around the world. It’s my legacy and something that I am very proud of.”

Once his kids graduated, Carruthers became manager of the pharmacy but was not particularly fulfilled in his work. In 2004, a headhunter he knew gave him a call. “He asked me, ‘Are you ready to come out of retirement?’ I said yes,” Carruthers says. “Then he asked if I had heard of AHF.” At the time, Carruthers hadn’t, but he learned that the Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization, founded in 1987, provides medicine and advocacy for HIV/AIDS care. AHF is currently the largest provider of HIV/AIDS medical care in the United States and serves more than seven hundred thousand people in thirty-eight countries around the world.

“They were providing care to people with HIV when no one would treat these folks,” he says. Carruthers was charged with expanding the domestic pharmacy program for AHF, which is now leading a mass testing initiative to identify and treat the millions of people who are unaware they are infected or not in care. “We call it ‘20-20’ because we feel that by the year 2020, if we and other organizations can get twenty million patients in care, we will start to get our arms around the infection,” he says. “Once the patient is in care and we get viral loads to undetectable levels, there is a high probability they won’t spread the disease.”

Carruthers has certainly come a long way from his time as a delivery boy and soda jerk. And he is quite content at where he is now. “AHF is a very rewarding organization,” Carruthers says. “I have been free to develop the pharmacy division, which generates most of the revenue that allows us to provide care regardless of the ability to pay. No matter how tough the day was, I know we have done something pretty special around the world. It’s my legacy and something that I am very proud of.”