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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Agency lends a hand to those with HIV
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Matt Simonette
2016-12-13

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Erie Family Health's Lending Hands for Life program has, since 1989, been offering testing and treatment, primary care and numerous other medical and wraparound services for persons with HIV/AIDS.

Located primarily in Humboldt Park, the program has a strong record of ensuring that its patients stay healthy according to the program's manager Bridget Magner.

"One thing that's contributed to our growth is that, not only do we have great community partners who do testing and referrals for us, but we're also getting a lot better at keeping better at keeping our patients in care," said Magner. "About 95.5 percent of our patients are kept in care, which means that they've had at least one medical visit in the last six months, and which is really high if you compare that to other HIV agencies in Chicago or across the nation."

About 88 percent of the agency's patients with HIV have an undetectable viral load. About 360 people, 78 of whom are women, take part in the program; three percent identify as transgender, according to Magner.

Keeping the high percentage of patient-outcomes positive requires difficult work, and Magner further emphasized the importance of organizational communication within Lending Hands for Life. Providers meet with the others on the staff about upcoming appointments at "case-conference" meetings to avoid having patients' histories disappear into information siloes, for example.

"That's becoming more-and-more common, but it's something we've been doing for years," Magner explained. "We meet with each provider and go over all of their patients' schedules. Sometimes the case manager has a piece of information that the provider needs, or our behavioral health provider, or our peer navigator. We kind of share bits and pieces of the puzzle that contribute to making sure we're all on the same page."

Magner's team also regularly assesses about 15 benchmarks to gauge how well they attend to patients, such as how frequently those patients access mental health services or testing for STIs.

"For example, there was an outbreak of meningitis, and folks who are HIV-positive need two doses of the vaccine, at least three weeks apart," she recalled. "It's a little bit harder than a one-time vaccination. We had too make sure our patients got both doses of that vaccine to protect them. We're really looking at a bunch of measures across the board. "

Lending Hands for Life is expanding to a new location on Foster Avenue in Albany Park for those who have difficulty getting to the Humboldt Park location. Wrapping hepatitis B services into the program has been another key goal. A particular challenge, however has been making PrEP available to persons who test negative for HIV. Magner admitted that the number of prescriptions agency providers have written for PrEP—about 50—is "embarrassingly low."

"We can get patients in the door, but we have so many patients who are at high risk for getting HIV that can be better served by that medication," she said.

For more information on Lending Hands for Life, contact Aaron Steinbrecher at 312-432-7220.


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