• Winona Holloway, Director of Communication

Imagine Hope Quarterly Report

Updated: Feb 28

October - December 2021

A Light in the Dark

“Attitude matters. A sour attitude can drag down those around you. It’s a choice – whether to discourage others or to inspire them.” - Marcus Lucas, Highland Rivers Infection Control Nurse
From January 2020 until January 2022, Marcus Lucas led the Highland Rivers EIS (Early Intervention Services) team. During that time, agency nurses screened 3,699 clients for HCV and performed 3,517 HIV tests – diagnosing 4 individuals HIV-positive and identifying 260 clients as HCV/RNA-positive.

We spoke to Marcus just before he left about his legacy. But the legacy, he insisted, belongs to the nurses of Highland Rivers. “Diane Sutphin is by far our biggest tester. After Diane, Lynn Williamson and Martha Elischer do the most; they are self-motivated, diligent, and great to work with. Last but not least, Holli Seals and Carla Hix also do testing. Together, they regularly make Highland Rivers the top testing EIS site in Georgia."

Asked what makes a great team, Marcus offered this: “In nursing or any job, whatever you put your hand to, do it with heart. I see that in our nurses – and it’s not always about fixing something. Listening is a big part of nursing – spending time with people and listening. Letting them know that you really do care – not that you can fix the problem but that you care and that you'll do whatever you can to help.”

“At any job, people can sit around and grumble. Everybody’s struggling with something. But if you’re complaining, that’s not going to help our clients. Our job is to be a light in a dark place.”

Whole Health Approach at The Athens Clinic

"I think we have a much better chance to engage a patient in substance use treatment if we're engaging the whole person." - Ali McCorkle, The Athens Clinic Program Director

This quarter (October – December 2021) The Athens Clinic (aka DM & ADR) performed 104 HIV tests; conducted 107 HCV screens; and identified nine new HCV/RNA positives. “Since the pandemic, we've seen a huge uptick in heroin and fentanyl use,” says Program Director Ali McCorkle, “along with a lot of new HCV positives.”

Last year, during the same quarter, at the height of the pandemic, 11 patients were diagnosed with chronic HCV. In contrast, during the same quarter in 2019, well before Georgia’s initial stay at home order, 5 patients were diagnosed with HCV. Ali thinks we’re past the worst. “We’re still seeing a lot of new diagnoses, but I think it’s probably the aftermath – so many people were alone and suffering.”

One of 5 partner agencies providing in-house HCV treatment, The Athens Clinic has 23 cured patients – with several more currently undergoing treatment.

Ali measures success in relation to holistic health. “I think for me it’s about treating the person as a whole - not just their opioid dependence. On day one we assess each patient’s needs and then we provide ongoing counseling to help the patient identify needs as they emerge – including things they need to keep working on after they leave treatment. We may focus on prescribing methadone or buprenorphine but
there are so many aspects to treatment beyond just addressing substance use issues.
We also want to help them cure their hepatitis. It means a lot to someone entering treatment to know that we can address their hepatitis C infection. I think we have a much better chance to engage a patient in substance use treatment if we're engaging the whole person."

Pictured with Ali McCorkle is Data Specialist Ryan Petty. "Having Ryan to handle the data is amazing," says Ali. "It lets me focus on getting people their medication - which accelerates the process of in-house treatment dramatically."


A Golden Opportunity: HCV Screening & Treating In-House

"How often do we have the opportunity to tell a patient that if they take their medication, in 8 weeks or 12 weeks, they will be cured?" - Shannon Corda, ARC/Athens Program Director

Alliance Recovery Center in Athens is an MAT (medication assisted treatment provider) that performed 97 HIV tests and 106 HCV screens this quarter. The clinic confirmed 10 individuals HCV-positive and in need of treatment.

HCV is common, it is deadly, and it is curable. In fact, it is the first virus for which there is a cure. In early 2020, ARC/Athens began providing HCV treatment in-house. To date they have treated 16 HCV-positive individuals - 2 who have just begun taking medication and 14 who have completed the medication and been confirmed cured.

Program Director Shannon Corda sees the HCV screening and treatment program as a golden opportunity. “There are so many conditions that we don’t know how to treat, so many diseases for which there is no cure, or the treatment makes people so sick it’s hard to tolerate. But with HCV we know what the solution is – it’s a pill a day. And we are able to provide HCV-positive patients who have no insurance access to medication that would otherwise be prohibitively expensive. How often do we have the opportunity to tell a patient that if they take their medication, in 8 weeks or 12 weeks, they will be cured? And with each cure, the risk to others is eliminated.”

“People who come here to recover from addiction – especially opioid addiction – are weighed down by stigma and shame. Our syringe services are another way that we reduce the risk of spreading infection and at the same time counter societal messages about lack of value, lack of worth. In essence, we’re saying to that patient: ‘We realize that you may not stop using right away and we want you – and your partners – to be as safe as possible while we help you get better. Because we care about you; you matter to us.’ Their reactions are a beautiful thing to witness.”

INSTI HIV Testing & Prevention Counseling / Part 1 - October 21, 2021

INSTI HIV Testing & Prevention Counseling Training / Part 2 - November 17, 2021


HIV Totals

1,857 HIV Tests, 4 New Confirmed HIV+ Diagnosis

During Q4/2021, the Imagine Hope Program screened 1,857 individuals for HIV. Of those, 100% received their results and 4 newly diagnosed HIV-positive clients were linked to care. This quarter nurses and counselors provided on-going support to 99 HIV+ clients, re-linked 9 previously diagnosed HIV+ clients who had fallen out of care to medical treatment.

HCV Totals

2,086 HCV Tests, 169 New HCV/RNA+ Diagnoses

During Q2/2021, the Imagine Hope Program screened 2,086 individuals for HCV. Of those, 169 were confirmed RNA+ or chronically infected with HCV. During the same period, 99 HCV+ clients took the first step in the linkage continuum when they received liver health/HCV education and 51 were referred and confirmed to have attended their first medical appointment.

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