“Being HIV-positive is no longer a death sentence,” says Gwen Reese. “There may not be a cure yet, but life-changing treatments are now available.”
Gwen is director the of clinical services at the Adult Special Care Center at Regional One Health. The center strives to meet the medical and psychosocial needs of those living with HIV.
While approximately 8,000 people in Shelby County are known to have the virus, the Health Department estimates another 2,000 are HIV-positive and don’t know it.
The Adult Special Care Center strives to meet the needs of HIV-positive patients through a multi-disciplinary approach.
“We have three infectious disease doctors who treat only HIV/AIDS,” says Gwen. “We have three nurse practitioners, a dietitian, a therapist and a psychiatrist. We also have a team of eight social workers to address issues such as homelessness and substance abuse, or to arrange home health nursing or placement in residential programs.”
By creating awareness and making treatment easily accessible, the center is helping HIV patients live much longer and healthier lives, as well as teaching them how to prevent transferring the virus to others.
Thanks to financial support from the Ryan White Funds, the Adult Special Care Center serves those who could not otherwise afford care. “We have about 2,500 patients,” says Gwen, “all of whom are below specified income levels. We provide care at no cost to them.” Free medical assistance is even provided to HIV patients with other illnesses, such as diabetes or hypertension.
Getting to the center can be a challenge for some, so gas cards, bus vouchers, and free parking are available. Even taxicab fares are paid for those who are not physically able to make it to the bus stop. Grocery vouchers are also available, and emergency assistance for utility bills can be arranged. Pharmacy patients can pick up their medicine right inside the center.
Still, some patients don’t show up for their appointments. They may face additional challenges such as mental health issues and substance abuse. “We have two early intervention specialists,” says Gwen, “who go out into the community to nd clients who haven’t been showing up and get them back into care.”
The center even serves as a networking hub, connecting patients to HIV-related support groups and community events. “We try to meet all of their needs,” Gwen says. “And if we can’t, we try to find someone who can.”