Quarterly Report - Q2/2019
Updated: Aug 23
Helping Clients Find a Path to Recovery
“When I come to work, I say hello to everyone with a big smile. They don't want someone coming in grumpy. They need somebody to smile and show that life can be good." - Vivian Hunter, Quentin's Place
During the final quarter HIV testing at Quentin’s Place in Dublin, Georgia was up 30% over the same quarter last year - lifting the annual total by nearly 15% over the previous year. “We can do better,” says Vivian. “I know that’s good, but I want to do great; I want the gold balloons.” For those who have not attended the annual meeting for Early Intervention Services workers, the agency that conducts the highest number of tests – HIV and HCV – receives gold balloons.
“A lot of the people that we serve are homeless,” says Vivian. “They’ve been out in the street, living in the woods. People can lose their way. We try to get them back on track to a successful, healthy life.”
Quentin's Place is a 16-bed stabilization unit for individuals in crisis - people with either a substance use disorder, a mental health diagnosis, or a combination of the two. During a stay of up to 7 days, clients attend educational groups on mental health, on drugs, and on HIV prevention. Helping clients learn their HIV status is a routine part of the service.
“When I come to work, I say hello to everyone with a big smile. When they comment on it, I tell them, ‘I got to bring sunshine!’ They don't want someone coming in grumpy. They need somebody to smile and show that life can be good."
“When you meet someone for the first time, you don’t know what they have encountered in their life. I want clients to know that they can talk to me about anything. When they share their story, I try to encourage them. I let them know that it doesn't matter what has gone on before. I say, ‘You can't live for your past. Now is the day to press toward your future.’"
“Sometimes when a client has hurt loved ones, they don't think they can get back to where they need to be, but they can. I've seen it. Clients come back to tell me that they haven’t done drugs in two years. Or they bring a friend to us - someone who needs our help.”
Workers at a crisis stabilization unit, who see clients at the beginning of their journey to recovery, seldom get to see the end of the story. But Vivian routinely asks clients what they are going to do when they leave Quentin’s Place. Many start by avoiding the people who shared their substance use; most go on to a 6-month or 12-month residential recovery program. And they share forgotten dreams: to work, to go back to school. A client may stop by to report that they got their degree. Or come in to introduce her to the child they have been reunited with.
“When people are in a dark place, they need help. We’re here to shed some light on their lives. Hearing the next happy chapter in their lives fills my heart with so much joy.” - Vivian Hunter
Reaching High Risk Clients in Columbus
“When we first started, it was a challenge to involve gatekeepers. We weren’t welcome. But people began to see that we were making a difference – that our work is about saving lives." - Larry Rush, New Horizons Nexus
HIV testing by the New Horizons Nexus* project in Columbus is up nearly 19% this year. Peer Outreach Specialist Larry Rush credits the increase to the one-minute INSTI HIV test and newly developed relationships with community partners – churches, homeless shelters, shower programs (where homeless individuals can go to shower), and the Columbus Day Reporting Center. In collaboration with EIS worker Gigi Robinson, Larry also offers testing and prevention counseling at health fairs and events at Columbus State University. On National HIV Testing Day they provided free testing at the library and also at the Day Reporting Center for individuals whose probation stipulations prevented them from coming to the library – testing 44 individuals for both HIV and HCV.
* Nexus is a substance abuse prevention program and also offers HIV prevention and testing. The program is designed to serve youth and young adults ages 14 to 24.
In Columbus, as elsewhere, attitudes toward HIV testing are colored by stigma, fear, and a lack of knowledge. While gay and bisexual men represent roughly 2% of the national population, they account for two thirds of new HIV diagnoses. Formerly part of a New Horizons project called Mpower that focused on HIV intervention with MSM, Larry continues to provide HIV prevention and testing – along with HCV screening and linkage – to those at highest risk.
Mpower was launched in 2014. Larry and supervisor Denise Wade were involved from the beginning; social worker Tito Terry came the following year. “When we first started,” says Larry, “we introduced the program as Mpower and it was a challenge to involve gatekeepers. We weren’t welcome. But when we introduced the program under the umbrella of New Horizons, people were more receptive. They began to see that we were making a difference – that our work is about saving lives – and we began being invited to speak about the services that we offer. Not only that, we began to reach MSMs who were church members.” And this quarter a plaque was presented to New Horizons Behavioral Health in gratitude for their support of Columbus Pride Day.
Resourceful EIS Worker Opens New Doors to Clients
“Always keep your eyes and ears open for new ways to help consumers get the best possible care. You never know when it might be the day a new treatment or a new way to reduce risk is announced.” - Gigi Robinson, New Horizons BHS
A guiding principle for Gigi Robinson, HIV Early Intervention Specialist at New Horizons Behavioral Health in Columbus, Georgia is, “always keep your eyes and ears open for new ways to help consumers get the best possible care. You never know when this will be the day a new treatment or a new way to reduce risk is announced.”
So when the Ladies Who PrEP Summit was hosted by the Columbus Health Department, Gigi was among the first to register. PrEP stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis: medication taken before exposure to HIV. It is a once-daily pill that can greatly reduce the risk of contracting HIV. EIS workers are encouraged to educate clients who are at high risk about the potential benefits and requirements of the treatment.
Individuals who share injection drugs or have unprotected sex – either with HIV-positive partners or partners whose HIV status they do not know – are at very high risk for exposure to HIV. To significantly reduce the risk of transmission, clients must take the medication every day at the same time. “This pill reduces the risk; it doesn’t eliminate it. For greater protection, I strongly recommend condoms,” says Gigi. “Also, PrEP can’t protect from other sexually transmitted diseases.”
Gigi shares two resources for PrEP with clients – the Columbus Department of Public Health and Walgreens, where individuals who have a prescription from a primary doctor can enroll in a drug assistance program to cover the out of pocket cost.
Having the latest information on resources available to clients leverages Gigi’s interventions and helps her to empower clients. Outreach allows her to reach those at risk beyond the walls of the agency, into the community - where clients return. The New Horizon outreach team includes social worker Tito Terry and Cure Outreach Specialist Larry Rush. "Whenever I have a big testing event, says Gigi, "Larry and Tito help me; when they have a big event, I help them.”
To find a PrEP provider near you, use the PrEP Locator.
2,797 HIV Tests, 7 New Confirmed HIV+ Diagnoses
During Q2/2019, Georgia's EIS program tested 2,797 individuals for HIV. Ot those, 99% received their results. All 7 newly diagnosed HIV-positive clients were referred to medical care; 6 were confirmed linked and one was reported to Georgia Department of Public Health for follow-up. This quarter EIS workers provided on-going support to 96 HIV+ clients, served 28 new clients previously diagnosed HIV+, and re-linked 18 who had fallen out of treatment to medical care.
2,651 HCV Screens, New HCV+ Diagnoses
During Q2/2019, Georgia's EIS program screened 2,651 individuals for HCV. Of those, 298 tested HCV Ab+ and 191 were confirmed RNA+ or chronically infected with HCV. During the same period, 150 HCV+ clients took the first step in the linkage process by completing HCV education and 43 attended their first medical appointment.