Community Voice Mail: Reaching the "Phoneless" with HIV Information

Content From: Michelle Samplin-Salgado, Account Director, Prochilo HealthPublished: July 14, 20094 min read


Last week we wrapped up our month-long series of blog posts for National HIV Testing Day addresses another access issue—phonelessness. Forget broadband or dial-up for a minute. What if you didn’t have a phone?

Community Voice Mail (CVM) provides a free voice mail box to people in transition—connecting them to jobs, housing and hope. Nearly 41% of CVM clients are unemployed, 52% are homeless, 21% are disabled, and 11% are veterans. 40% of CVM clients report no income at all, and the average monthly income of a CVM client is $524.85. The people that benefit from CVM are some of the hardest to reach.

I first heard about CVM at a CDC-sponsored event about reaching the underserved. Steve Albertson, Director of New Initiatives for CVM, shared stories of people finding housing and jobs. And then he mentioned peanut products. CVM partnered with the CDC to share important health messages about the recent peanut-recall. That’s when it occurred to me that CVM could be an effective way for to connect hard-to-reach people with HIV information and resources. In the months leading up to National HIV Testing Day, collaborated with Steve and CVM, and received input from U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Affairs and the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs, to craft messages about the importance of getting an HIV test. The messages directed people to the CDCInfo hotline to find a testing site near them or, because CVM works with local agencies, provided information about where CVM clients could get an HIV test in their own community.

Two waves of National HIV Testing Day voice mails were sent to over 20,000 CVM clients and an additional 3,600 clients received an email message about HIV testing. They also sent broadcast voice and/or email messages to over 1,800 social service agencies in 45 cities. Over 40 CVM clients left us messages and gave feedback about the HIV Testing Day message. Steve told us, “overwhelmingly, our clients thanked us for the information, and many indicated they would share the number with others and call it themselves. Clients spoke about their fear of being tested, and how it was good to be reminded about how important it is to get tested. One client told us why she thought some people didn’t get tested (you can listen to her voice message here, used TwitterExit Disclaimer, FacebookExit Disclaimer and encouraged their sites across the country to use our badges at NetSquared’s N2Y4 ConferenceExit Disclaimer in San Jose and in Second LifeExit Disclaimer. On the CVM blog they said, “It’s great to be able to communicate with so many people who are often hard to reach, and who can benefit greatly from this kind of information . . . we hope that a lot of people who might not otherwise think about it call the hotline, find a testing location, and get tested.”

Scot More, CVM director in Houston told us, “Until there is a cure for HIV, we will never end homelessness. Life is hard enough for anyone living on the streets, but even harder for those infected with HIV/AIDS. Knowing your status is not in the forefront of one’s mind who is in survival mode and does not know where their next meal is coming from. CVM has the unique way to reach these individuals thru Broadcast Messaging. This message and the information sent is personal, private and coming from a trusted source. I believe we are making a difference in many people’s lives.”

Community Voice Mail has fully embraced new media as a way to reach its supporters and to raise awareness not only about their services, but about the issue of “phonelessness.” It certainly inspired us to think creatively about reaching those in transition. Do you know of other services and programs connecting people who are hard to reach with HIV information? How can new media support programs whose clients may not have access to new media themselves? Let us know what you think!