Since 1984, the Section of Infectious Diseases at Rush University Memorial Hospital has stood out as one of the city's largest HIV/AIDS clinics.
While the facility remains committed to providing high-quality care for those with HIV, it has since evolved through partnerships with local hospitals and the National Institutes of Health ( NIH ) to become one of the nation's top research institutions.
"We look at effectiveness, availability and what's trending," said Craig Johnson, community health promoter at Rush. "The doctors and researchers here are really on top of what's new and what's next."
The HIV-focused clinic boasts a staff of more than 30 physicians, nurses and fellows, and treats about 800 clients annually. Researchers evaluate various antiretroviral medications, linkages to care, and new health developments such as inflammation and tuberculosis among HIV populations.
Johnson said one of the hospital's main focuses moving forward is expanding research to include historically underrepresented at-risk populations.
"If we know that a broader number of African-Americans, Latinos and women are getting infected, but that number is not getting more involved in research, then we're looking at a disparity in the pool," Johnson said. "When others are trending down, why are these groups going up?"
Rush doctors have studied whether certain medications work differently in men and women, or among Caucasians and racial minorities.
Johnson regularly works with local organizations such as the South Side Help Center and the Black Treatment Advocates Network to rally community members into participating in trials.
"I know there are a lot of elephants in the room when it comes to research, but we've got to get past that if we want to make a difference," Johnson said. "We would not have six classes of antiretrovirals available to keep 20,000 people in Chicago alive, and 1.1 million nationally, without that research."
Johnson reminds patients that clinical trials will not negatively affect their health. Each participant receives antiretroviral medication, plus supplemental medical care.
"The progress is going to happen no matter what," Johnson said. "The question is: At what rate is it going to happen? Do you want people holding on and dragging their feet? Or do you want people to really push the effort forward?"
To learn more about clinical trials, visit www.rush.edu .
This story is part of the Local Reporting Initiative, supported in part by The Chicago Community Trust.