When the Seek and Treat for Optimal Prevention (STOP) of HIV/AIDS program found Ross in 2012, he was HIV positive and his immune system was seriously damaged. In addition, the 40 year old struggled with severe opioid and methamphetamine addiction.
Under VCH, the STOP Outreach Team supported Ross in getting into three different residences and placed in several shelters. However, he faced multiple evictions and incarcerations. He was connected to the John Ruedy Immunodeficiency Clinic at St. Paul’s Hospital. There, he re-started methadone treatment and became engaged in his medical care.
A turning point came this year, when Ross became stabilized at Harbourlight, a detox centre, after many failed attempts at detox over the years. He then restarted on antiretroviral medications and was transferred to a treatment centre. He eventually left the treatment centre after facing stigma and abuse due to his HIV status. The STOP staff supported and encouraged Ross to reintegrate into the centre. He returned and completed his treatment program before moving into a recovery house.
“Having a team to find him in the community and connect him with the clinic, really made the difference. He wasn’t able to do that independently at that point in his life, he required outreach to accompany him to connect to various community resources,” says Lesa Dumsha, a STOP Team outreach nurse. “It was being there for him continuously over the years. We provided a great deal of harm reduction and emotional support. It’s remarkable how far he has come.”
“In Ross’s state at the time, we were very concerned that he would die from AIDS-related causes, an overdose or getting hit by a car as he was often very intoxicated,” she continues. “He is one of our greatest success stories – and likely the most improved person that the STOP Team has ever worked with. He has proven that even those who seem to have such little hope at life can still make remarkable changes. Seeing his turn around provides us with hope for others whose situation currently seems very grim.”
And Ross isn’t the only one the team has helped. Since February 2011, the STOP Team has helped and connected more than 600 people with HIV/AIDS. Comprised of social workers, outreach workers, peer navigators and nurses like Lesa, the STOP Team helps people living with HIV/AIDS who struggle with connection to to health care services. Many of them are facing addiction, mental illness and homelessness issues.
“We have the flexibility with outreach to cater to our clients’ needs,” Lesa says. “We put in the time to build trusting, therapeutic relationships with our clients and are constantly working with our community partner’s to creatively problem solve ways to break down the barriers that individuals face to access the health care system.”
She says the strength of the program lies in the collaborative interdisciplinary team approach, both amongst the STOP Team and with their community partners.
“Although each STOP Team member works autonomously, it’s a very collaborative work environment,” she says, “where we are in regular communication about our client’s care planning.”
Lesa says being part of the STOP team is really gratifying work.
“The most fulfilling part of the job is seeing people’s health and wellbeing, their lives, improve.”
Part of this story has been gathered from the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS