Walgreens has partnered with Greater Than AIDS, an advocacy group providing resources and information on the HIV epidemic in the U.S., to provide free HIV testing and information at participating Walgreens stores across 180 cities, including New Orleans. The services will be available June 27 between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m.
A member of the popular 610 Stompers dance crew is telling his story about living with HIV. “It really doesn’t matter how one contracts HIV, the important thing is we get tested,” Dorian Alexander said. Alexander hopes his story clears up misconceptions about HIV.
The 2018 New Orleans Pride Parade hit the streets Saturday night, and WDSU and its Parade Tracker was following along. The parade began in the Marigny and ended in the French Quarter. WDSU teamed up with CrescentCare to provide live coverage. Click on the video above to rewatch the parade.
New Orleans #FastTrackCities clinician-lead Jason Halperin discusses rapid ART initiation at CrescentCare – within 72 hrs of diagnosis (CrescentCare Start Initiative) or within 72 hours from first clinic contact (Early Intervention service) @IAPAC #Adherence2018
In an effort to provide the best possible services to the transgender community, CrescentCare has formed a Transgender Advisory Committee. The Transgender Advisory Committee (TAC) is a collaboration of trans identified and allied staff who advise on programming and procedures for CrescentCare. The TAC works on a diverse set of topics such as the Gender Clinic, the National HIV Behavioral Survey Transgender Cycle, and facilitating community forums on Transgender Health. The TAC is a growing body of concerned staff committed to listening to voices of the transgender community in order to improve all services at CrescentCare.
Bounce royalty Big Freedia will headline a free Pride Prom for LGBT teens and young adults at Hyatt Regency’s Celestin Ballroom May 11. The prom, organizer Marc Behar says, is designed as a safe, fun and alcohol-free party for LGBT youth ages 15-21. Such events can help resolve issues such as restrictive dress codes or not being able to bring a date of one’s preferred gender to a high school prom. Teens from both public and private area schools are encouraged to attend. This prom is the first major event of its kind held in several years in the New Orleans area. In addition to performances by Big Freedia and DJ Brice Nice, it includes a prom royalty “Strut-Off,” in which teens walk the catwalk for a juried costume contest to win non-gender-specific crowns. There also are complimentary professional prom photos and free food and drinks. While adults over age 21 may not attend the event, chaperones from sponsoring groups HyPride, Jewish Pride NOLA, PFLAG New Orleans and CrescentCare plus Hyatt security staff will provide supervision.The prom takes place from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday, May 11. There’s no charge to attend, but participants should register online.
Designated attire is “whatever makes you feel fabulous.”
The VA Southeastern Louisiana Health System, nine Ochsner locations, and CrescentCare were all designated Leaders in LGBTQ care by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation in 2018. They were among 418 facilities surveyed across the U.S. to receive the designation. (Photo by Ted Jackson, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) ORG XMIT: NOLA2015061614435814(Ted Jackson)
By Maria Clark NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
Three New Orleans healthcare providers have been recognized as “LGBT Healthcare Equality Leaders” by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation for their commitment to provide inclusive environments for their LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender) patients and employees.
A total of seven Ochsner locations — including Ochsner Baptist, the Ochsner Medical Centers on Jefferson Highway, Kenner, North Shore and its West Bank Campus — as well as the New Orleans Veterans Administration Hospital and the CrescentCare Community Health Center were recognized in the HRC Foundation’s annual Healthcare Equality Index (HEI) released March 27.
The index scores facilities on their policies and practices aimed at creating more inclusive environments for LGBT patients, visitors and employees. This year, 626 healthcare facilities around the U.S. participated in the survey. Providers can elect to participate and are graded in the areas of LGBT patient-centered care, LGBT patient services and support, employee benefits and policies, and LGBT patient and community engagement. To earn a healthcare equality leader designation, the facility has to score a 100 in each of these categories.
The HEI was created to address health disparities and inequalities LGBT patients can sometimes experience in healthcare settings. About 52 percent of transgender patients and 9 percent of lesbian, gay and bisexual respondents said they believed they would be refused medical services because of their LGBT status, according to the index.The survey showed remarkable progress among participating facilities, including a 63 percent increase (70,000 hours) across the board in LGBT care training across all 626 hospitals surveyed over the past year.
The release of the 2018 HEI coincided with the deadline for public comments on a proposed “conscience” regulation at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The proposal would protect health care providers who refuse to perform, accommodate, or assist with certain health care services based on religious or moral grounds.If approved, it would allow a provider to file a complaint under the Federal Health Care Provider Conscience Protection Statute, if they feel they have been discriminated against for objecting or refusing to participate in medical procedures — such as abortion, sterilization or sex reassignment surgeries — that go against the provider’s religious or moral beliefs.
This was the second year in a row the VA Southeast Louisiana Healthcare System was recognized by the HRC Foundation for their care for LGBT patients. They provide mental health services, pre and post-surgery care for transgender patients, and offer a transgender support group that meets every Friday, which is coordinated by a licensed clinical worker, among their services for this patient population.The clinical worker, Danielle Rosenfelv started the group about five years ago. At the time, the participants were mostly transgender women older than 50.”Now we serve just as many trans men and people as young as early as in their 20s,” she said. “We have a large population of transgender veterans, and there is a commitment by the VA to serve all of those who have served.”
In 2013, the VA issued a directive to standardize care for LGBT veterans, including creating non-discrimination policies for veterans and their families, creating guidelines for access to care for transgender and intersex veterans and increasing information and training to providers on topics related to LGBT health.
It’s estimated that over 134,000 American veterans are transgender, and over 15,000 transgender people serve in the military today, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality. Ochsner has focused on standardizing training for all employees and establishing non-discrimination policies throughout the system, explained Dr. Brandy Panunti, an endocrinologist at Ochsner who works with transgender patients.
This includes establishing the correct coding when a provider needs to order gender-specific exams (i.e. pelvic exams) so a transgender patient isn’t denied coverage because the needed exam does not match the gender listed on their documents.”How people identify may not be reflected in their legal documents or on their insurance,” Panunti said.In a 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, transgender people reported experiencing denial of care because staff were not trained to “code” gender-specific exams. “Overall, the health system is a slow one, and we have a lot of catching up to do,” said Panunti.
Of the hospitals that did not participate in the Healthcare Equality Index but were scored based on research over the past year, 63 percent have patient non-discrimination policies including both sexual orientation and gender identity, and 53 percent have LGBT-inclusive employment non-discrimination policies. About 93 percent had equal visitation policies.
This is the third year in a row that CrescentCare received the Leader in LGBT Healthcare Equality designation. The federally qualified health center began in 1983 as the NO/AIDS Task Force, a non-profit dedicated to fighting the AIDS epidemic in New Orleans.
“Dignity for patients and employees has always been at the heart of CrescentCare’s mission, going back to our foundation as NO/AIDS Task Force,” said Augustin Correro, a spokesperson for CrescentCare.
“The steps toward inclusion and affirmation are such simple ones to take but are immensely meaningful to so many people. As an organization that wouldn’t exist without the dedication of the LGBT community, we promise to continue showing our dedication every day,” he said.
As a resident advisor at Tulane University, a former student frequently talked with his peers about the importance of getting tested frequently for sexually transmitted infections.
He went to Essence Fest last July with a group of friends and saw that a free testing site had been set up. Already used to getting tested, he decided, why not?
Perhaps it was because of his experience working as an RA and being familiar with the true ramifications of a life with HIV, that he was able to accept his HIV-positive test results calmly.
“Everyone else was freaking out. I thought, ‘Well this is inconvenient,'” said the young man, who is now 23. He asked not to be named in this article because his family does not know about his HIV status.
The day he got tested, the Tulane graduate was given medicine that could counteract the virus – and within a week, he said the virus was undetectable.
“I caught it early,” he said.
The treatment of HIV has dramatically changed and health workers, including in New Orleans, are pushing to expand access to testing sites as medication becomes more accessible and easier to take. HIV specialists say that the quicker a patient is consistently taking anti-retrovirals, the quicker they will be able to lower their viral load to the point where HIV is undetectable in their blood stream.
The Mid-City health center CrescentCare partnered with the New Orleans Office of Health Policy on an initiative to start treating newly diagnosed patients with those retroviral drugs within 72 hours of testing positive for HIV. So far, 131 patients diagnosed with HIV have been placed on rapid treatment as part of that initiative, called Rapid Start, since it launched in December 2016.
Putting HIV patients on a consistent treatment plan, early in their diagnosis, so that the virus is suppressed and unable to spread is an essential part of the fight against the HIV epidemic. Louisiana was second in the country in 2016 for the highest number of AIDS cases and third for new HIV cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“There is data that shows if your viral load is undectable you can’t transmit the virus,” said Dr. Jason Halperin an infectious disease specialist with CrescentCare. “That’s why we are trying to get patients on treatment the day of (diagnosis).”
The time between testing and treatment for newly diagnosed HIV patients has typically been 90 days to allow time for necessary lab work. But in New Orleans, where the rate of new HIV cases has consistently kept the city in the top five in the country for several years, 90 days is precious time.
The Rapid Start initiative was based on studies that have been conducted in places like San Francisco, Haiti, and South Africa that showed that immediate treatment with antiretroviral therapy leads to quicker suppression of the virus, retention in care and a decrease in the death rate, according to a study published by Halperin and his team of researchers at CrescentCare.
“It’s harder to keep people in care when there is a longer gap in treatment,” said Halperin.
Louisiana ranked No. 2 in chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis rates
Louisiana ranked No. 2 in chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis rates
Patients in the Rapid Start program get set up with same-day appointments. The initial visits are streamlined so that the patient can quickly get their medication. Rapid Start covers the cost of medication for the first 30 days, while the clinic evaluates other insurance options.
Patients also get connected quickly to an HIV specialist for ongoing management, and get follow-up appointments within four weeks.
“We don’t want to lose patients, retention is very important,” Halperin said.
As of noon on March 14, the clinic has 131 patients on the Rapid Start initiative. Ten other patients had left the clinic since they got connected to Rapid Start in December 2016.
“The vast majority we have confirmed are in care in another state or local clinic,” said Halperin. “92.3 percent of our patients provided care through the initiative remain at CrescentCare.”
The STD/HIV Program for the state’s health department is battling HIV rates in Louisiana with a combination of prevention and treatment tactics. This includes marketing and making preventative medication called PrEP (pre exposure prophylactics) more available to high-risk candidates. Those include men who have sex with men; transgender women; intravenous drug users; people who engage in risky sexual behavior, such as having sex with multiple partners in a span of six months; or are with a partner who is HIV positive and not being treated effectively.
Additionally, they are looking at working with clinics to try to establish more places that provide testing and rapid treatment, according to DeAnn Gruber, the director of the program.
In Baton Rouge, the Open Health Clinic is offering same-day referrals to a medical appointment but has not yet implemented same-day treatment, according to Gruber.
In New Orleans, Dr. Sue Ellen Abdalian, a specialist in adolescent medicine, also offers test and treat for newly diagnosed HIV patients. She works out of several locations, including the Drop-In Center at Covenant House, the infectious disease clinic at University Medical Center and Tulane’s T-Cell Clinic.
Abdalian is currently conducting a study that will focus on 750 HIV-negative high-risk MSM (men who have sex with men) and transgender women between the ages of 14 and 24. The study will offer free sexually transmitted infection screenings every four months. The participants will be assigned to groups receiving a combination of support either through a peer support group, a life coach or through text messages offering health tips. In New Orleans, this age group accounted for 32 percent of all new HIV diagnoses in 2015, according to the state health department.
“We are hoping that none of them become HIV-positive,” she said. If they do, a key part of the study will be implementing rapid treatment after diagnosis.
Teens also have much more immune resiliency and she believes the study will show that, through test and treatment, patients will be likelier to remain in treatment and have suppressed viral loads to where they won’t be able to infect another person.
“We don’t want them walking out without medication in their hands if not in their mouths,” she said.