When Homelessness Means a Disease's Rapid Progression
Many homeless individuals living with HIV/AIDS come into care with advanced disease and an AIDS diagnosis. They often have low CD4 counts (the lab test that measures the progression of the virus) and require treatment for a range of opportunistic infections rarely seen in the general population of HIV infected individuals in the U.S.
Many homeless individuals living with HIV/AIDS have drug-resistant strains of the virus, further complicating their treatment options. Compounding those issues is the reality that many of these individuals also struggle with histories of incarceration, substance use disorders, and mental illness.
A Team with Expertise in Both HIV Disease and the Homeless Population
BHCHP began offering HIV services to homeless people in 1986. Today, our HIV Team provides comprehensive primary care, case management, and client advocacy services to more than 300 homeless people living with HIV/AIDS.
The HIV Team is composed of physicians, a physician assistant, nurse practitioners, nurses, behavioral health professionals, dentists and case managers. We provide a multidisciplinary model of care that integrates HIV primary care, behavioral health, oral health, community outreach and case management services.
We aim to successfully treat HIV and control its spread through:
- Identification of homeless people with HIV who are unaware of their infection through our HIV testing and counseling program.
- Linkage and retention in care for those newly diagnosed with HIV through our Linkage and Retention Outreach Team.
- Provision of secondary prevention services including patient education , support groups, and nurse-driven HIV medication adherence support.
- Delivery of state-of-the-art HIV primary care to homeless persons infected with HIV to improve their health and the quality of their lives.
Despite the instability and chaos of homelessness, with our innovative, multidisciplinary team model, BHCHP has been able to both link and retain homeless individuals in HIV care and to successfully provide HIV therapies to this population. In fact, of the BHCHP patients living with HIV/AIDS, more than 80% have an undetectable HIV viral load – a level of viral suppression that is on par with the national average for all Americans. This provides strong evidence that it is possible to successfully manage HIV disease in homeless individuals through programs tailored to meet their specific needs.