Note: Wednesday’s conference plenary underscored key principles of both the RWHAP and the Ending the HIV Epidemic initiative, including the critical importance of engaging diverse voices from the community in all aspects of this work as well as developing new and innovative ways to serve vulnerable populations and to better use data to inform our work. –Harold J. Phillips, COO, EHE
Thousands of HIV care and treatment leaders, including Health Resources and Services Administration’s (HRSA) Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program (RWHAP) recipients and subrecipients from across the country, virtually reconvened for Day 2 of the 2020 National Ryan White Conference on HIV Care & Treatment on Wednesday. The Day 2 theme was “Optimizing Public Health,” a critical mission of HRSA’s RWHAP, which provides a comprehensive system of HIV primary medical care, essential support services, and medication to more than half a million people with HIV each year. The theme also highlighted the essential role that community engagement has in both the program as well as in ending the HIV epidemic in the United States.
Plenary Session Spotlight: Optimizing Public Health
The Day 2 plenary began with a community engagement panel moderated by HRSA’s HIV/AIDS Bureau’s Division of Policy and Data Director Antigone Dempsey. Four panelists who joined Dempsey highlighted a core value of RWHAP – that everyone has an important voice in this effort, and those voices are the people who help shape how the program moves forward in ending the HIV epidemic. The panelists included: National Minority AIDS Council (NMAC) Director of Treatment Moisés Agosto-Rosario; National Trans Visibility March, TransSolutions LLC Founder and Senior Director, CEO Marissa Miller; Latino Commission on AIDS Director of Programs Leandro Rodriguez, MBA; and Thrive Support Services (Thrive SS) Executive Director Larry Scott-Walker. As part of the discussion, panelist shared their definitions of engaging with the community and offered personal experiences of participating meaningfully in HIV planning and service delivery.
In his response to the definition of community engagement, Agosto-Rosario said, “A meaningful connection from belonging to a community, an ‘emotional click’ to bring people together and work on something bigger than yourself.” He also shared that he works with people aged 50 and older and has learned “that people felt they were being left behind, so we set up a needs assessment to better understand their issues and priorities.”
During the discussion Rodriguez spoke to the importance of the words and that language matters. He said, “When we think about reaching our community, we have to think about the words that we use and how the meaning of those words change through times and communities… We aim to be more inclusive of the LGBTQ community, so we look for neutral words that don’t isolate or separate, but instead gather and are inclusive.”
Highlighting the important role that mentors have in community engagement, Miller said, “I celebrate 30 years of Ryan White and living effectively with HIV because I had those mentors who taught me about the different parts of Ryan White, who taught me how to go to the doctor and talk about the needs that I had, who taught me to make sure I had health care that was culturally sensitive…so I think it’s essential we build relationships with health care providers.”
Scott-Walker shared his experience engaging with his community around HIV testing, care, and support through Thrive SS, and he shared, “We didn’t start out to start an agency but now have an established national network of MSM of color.”
The panel discussion was followed by presentations by two HIV care programs that address disparities due to race, ethnicity, gender, and poverty.
First University of North Carolina, Division of Infectious Diseases Assistant Professor of Medicine and UNC Infectious Diseases Clinic Medical Director Dr. Claire Farel reviewed a transitional care coordination (TCC) model for people with HIV who are incarcerated, mostly in jails. The North Carolina site was one of three funded sites across the U.S., where bridge counselors worked with clients in jail settings to plan their post-release care, with a 90-day post release intervention time frame. Counselors coordinated with jail intake and medical staff and met with clients in jail medical. She shared promising outcomes. For example, those with a TCC encounter within one-week post-release were significantly more likely to link to HIV care within 30 days. Likewise, viral suppression rates were higher among those seeing a TCC counselor.
The second presenter, City of Kansas City, Missouri, Health Department Quality & Housing Special Projects Coordinator Jamie Shank, discussed how Kansas City created a continuum of support to integrate housing and HIV care in order to improve HIV outcomes. Shank said the housing continuum depicts critical services and interventions at each stage. A key tool used to monitor client outcomes in this project was developed via a RWHAP SPNS-developed data set, with client-level and case management data, which helps the city understand the “why behind our work.” Data helped to monitor clients but also to determine how best to coordinate care and to train staff to take on priorities.
Stay Connected to #RyanWhite2020
Want to stay connected to the Virtual 2020 National Ryan White Conference on HIV Care & Treatment? Follow HRSA on Twitter: @HRSAgov. You can also share which sessions you are enjoying – just use the hashtags #RyanWhite2020 and #30YearsofCARE.