12/19/08 — Officials: HIV on rise in Wayne; programs planned

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Officials: HIV on rise in Wayne; programs planned

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on December 19, 2008 1:46 PM

With HIV and AIDS a growing concern in Wayne County, grant funding is being targeted to increase education and assistance for those dealing with the disease, Health Director James Roosen told the Board of Health Wednesday.

"There are over 300 people in Wayne County that are HIV-positive and another 25 to 30 percent at least that are out there that we don't know about," he said.

A full-time HIV/AIDS case manager is "desperately" needed, he added.

"We have got to have that as a goal, and we do in our strategic plan for next year," Roosen said.

With that in mind, the Health Department's strategic plan will be presented in a public forum as part of next month's board meeting, planned for Jan. 21 at 12:15 p.m. Its location will move to the Wayne Center to accommodate the larger audience anticipated.

In the meantime, the Health Department has been fortunate to tap into some funding resources, Roosen said.

"Two months ago we were notified of some grant funding for HIV/STD prevention for HIV education, testing and outreach," he said. Ideas were solicited from the community as to best uses of the two-year grant worth $17,500.

"We received two good ideas, which we're going to do," Roosen said.

The first was from the Hispanic Community Development Center in Dudley.

"They proposed we do non-traditional HIV testing, which is something our Health Department has been trying to accomplish for the last two years."

One concern was that Dr. Kim Larson, a member of the Board of Health, also serves as an adviser to the center. Roosen explained that she would receive no compensation from the funding and said the county's attorney had suggested the matter be brought before the board.

Board members determined there was no conflict of interest for Dr. Larson to continue serving in an advisory capacity during the project.

Total funding for that portion would be an estimated $12,000, with the remainder to be used on an idea suggested by the health education department -- free condom distribution in such areas as beauty shops, barber shops and setting up machines in some strategic areas, Roosen said.

The board also received an update on a project begun to match up those already diagnosed with HIV to proper care.

"We had access to a small amount of grant funding last year for HIV/AIDs funding" in collaboration with Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University in Greenville, Roosen said. Nina Silverthorne, a retired social worker, was enlisted to oversee the effort.

The Bridge Counselor Project entailed locating and contacting HIV-positive patients who might not be receiving medical care and get them back into the system, Ms. Silverthorne explained.

It was quite a challenge, she said. Many had moved, some dropped out of care because of transportation issues, and there was a doctor shortage at Brody when the grant started, delaying some of the process, she said.

Beyond that, however, she found those she encountered were "grateful and receptive," she said.

"I contacted a middle-aged lady who found out a year ago that she was HIV-positive but did not know where to go or what to do," Ms. Silverthorne said. "She had not even told her doctor treating her about it because of the stigma. She was very receptive to going to the Brody School for treatment."

She also shared the story of a young mother diagnosed HIV-positive while pregnant but had not followed up on any medical recommendations. Now engaged, Ms. Silverthorne said the woman had the attitude, "'What's the point if I'm going to die anyway?'"

"I was very pleased that she did agree to a referral and that she would get the help and support she needed so that she could go on with her life, and watch her children grow up and go on."

Overall, Ms. Silverthorne said she believes the program was a very worthwhile endeavor.

"There are people now getting care that were not getting care," she told the board. "It really pointed out the need for follow-up. The state and the county currently do not have the follow-up needed.

"I think this is one of the big issues that would really be beneficial, to have someone contact them."