HIV services expand across the state

IU Health Positive Link offers a community-based program for HIV patients in 49 counties across the state.

It’s been 20 years since Thomas Dyer learned he was infected with HIV.

A graduate of Indiana University, he had moved to LA and was advised at the time to go on medication. He was even going to take part in a study of a vaccine to prevent HIV. But he put off treatments.

“There were a lot of people of my orientation, a lot of promiscuity. I did not have any symptoms and I was in good health. I delayed medications out of fear and ignorance,” said Dyer, who is back in Bloomington. In April of 2013 he began taking part in the services of Positive Link, a program that started in 1991 and has expanded over the years to offer services in 49 counties. The IU Health program offers a range of services specific to those impacted by HIV. Those services include risk reduction planning, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) navigation, outreach and community groups, and HIV testing.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people between the ages of 13 and 64 be tested once for HIV as part of routine healthcare. On June 27, LifeCare, a program that has served hundreds of Indiana clients infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), will offer free HIV testing from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. LifeCare is located at 1633 N. Capitol Ave., Suite 300, Indianapolis. Positive Link will also offer free testing at sites in Terre Haute, Bloomington and Paoli.

As part of National HIV Testing Day various healthcare providers and outreach programs come together to raise awareness of early prevention and early detection.

Positive Link collaborates with LifeCare to provide the best patient care to the growing clientele throughout the state. The care goes beyond medical needs.

Dyer utilized the Bloomington program to secure housing and transportation to and from his doctor visits and the pharmacy.

“The toughest part of me dealing with HIV was from 2001-2012 when there were limited services. I was living paycheck to paycheck and was dealing with stress and alcoholism,” said Dyer.

He relies on the food pantry for meal planning and also takes part in the “Positive Eats” workshop that provides information about diet and nutrition. Through Positive Link Dyer receives substance abuse counseling at home, assistance with obtaining and understanding medical insurance, emergency financial assistance, and medical case management.

“We really work to collaborate with other HIV providers to serve as a unifying point to bring together the best clinical care for our clients,” said Jill Stowers, a licensed social worker and clinical lead manager for Positive Link. “One of the things I’ve always suspected is people with HIV rarely access primary care for an infectious disease. They still need primary care but they also need so much more.” Throughout the state, programs are geared toward the needs in particular geographical areas. Many include bilingual services and additional education about risk and prevention.

Last year, Positive Link provided services to more than 1,200 individuals living with HIV, said Stowers. “Some clients received more than one service. The breakout is about 74 percent male; 14 percent female and two percent transgender.” Additionally, about 100 clients are served through the East Central Region offices, and 85 through the West Central Region offices. “Of those clients we found out of care, 74 percent have reengaged in medical care and over 93 percent who have been back in care for over six months are now virally suppressed,” said Stowers.

Richard Root’s brother died in 1990 of complications from HIV. It was a time when society was still uncertain of the causes and effects of the disease.

“I was accused of having AIDS because I have a gay brother. Back then they thought you could get it anyway possible. I’m straight and I ran back and forth from Indiana to Kansas with drugs and women. I never thought I’d test positive for HIV,” said Root.

He attended an education workshop on sexually transmitted diseases and tested positive for HIV in 2007.

“As soon as I heard it I felt like I was marked for death. There were 30 people in the room and I was the only one crying because I knew about my brother,” said Root. Since 2007, he has relied on Positive Link to help him navigate his diagnosis.

“What I love about the program is that the clients are an amazing group of people. I learn from them as much as they say they learn from us. Since we do long term case management I have clients that have been with us since 1994,” said Julie Hiles, a care coordinator who has been with Positive Link for 25 years. She is one of four care coordinators in Bloomington. At any given time each one has a caseload of about 50-70 clients. “It’s great to see how their lives have changed and it’s great to be part of their lives and help them get stronger, healthier and become more successful.

— By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health.
Reach Banes via email