UF Health personnel in Jacksonville are giving special attention to the city’s homeless population affected by HIV and AIDS, with further collaboration among area social service agencies seen as key to helping this demographic.
In August, the University of Florida Center for HIV/AIDS Research, Education and Service (UF CARES) hosted its 20th annual Infection Diseases and HIV Conference of Northeast Florida. The symposium, held in the Learning Resource Center on the UF Health Jacksonville campus, centered on homelessness.
The event was the culmination of a three-year federal grant to study the intersection of HIV and homelessness in Duval County. The project studied the feasibility of providing care for HIV-infected homeless individuals and developing a model that would be sustainable. UF CARES is now analyzing the data in collaboration with four other sites around the country.
“The homeless population is difficult to reach, treat and retain,” said Mobeen Rathore, MD, founding director of UF CARES, and a professor and associate chair of pediatrics at the University of Florida College of Medicine – Jacksonville. “Those patents require special attention and can benefit from a study like this.”
Rathore speaks of mental illnesses and other conditions that are often discovered in patients who have HIV. These comorbidities highlight the need for strong partnerships with local groups who, for instance, provide mental health services and substance abuse treatment.
The symposium drew more than 130 attendees, including area physicians, social workers, mental health providers and case managers. Participating organizations included Changing Homelessness, Gateway Community Services and Sulzbacher Center.
“The people who attended were very engaged,” Rathore said. “The event was quite successful and the outcome was beyond our expectations.”
Ana Alvarez, MD, an associate professor of pediatrics at UF COMJ, helped plan the symposium and oversaw its continuing medical education component. She said a chief goal was to simply raise awareness.
“We’re becoming more atuned to the unique challenges of those who are homeless,” Alvarez said. “There are usually psychological and social issues that must be addressed before tackling the medical issues.”
Alvarez said UF CARES’ community outreach is ongoing, as faculty and staff are working with area agencies on ideas such as health fairs targeting colleges, churches and various community groups. They are also seeking additional grant money to hire more mental health counselors and case managers.
In addition, UF CARES now offers telemedicine services, giving established patients more convenience and flexibility in communicating with their caregivers. UF Health family medicine personnel will facilitate the virtual visit program.
“There are times when getting to a physician's office is difficult, whether due to work, transportation or a range of other issues, and this alleviates some of the stress put on patients,” said Nipa Shah, MD, a professor and chair of community health and family medicine at UF COMJ.
UF CARES, which has existed more than 20 years, is the only comprehensive pediatric and family-focused HIV and AIDS program in Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia. Click here for more information.