Focus from the Field
The Universe may have begun with a big “bang,” but the quality and accessibility of HIV-focused health services in the Bronx, New York have just improved with a BOOM! Thanks to the recent merger of CitiWide Harm Reduction and Bronx AIDS Services, the newly merged and rebranded Bronx-based organization BOOM!Health now delivers a full range of prevention, syringe access, harm reduction, health coordination, behavioral health, housing, legal, advocacy and wellness services to over 8,000 individuals in the Bronx’s hardest to reach communities, including injection drug users. AIDS United has had partnerships with each of BOOM!Health’s preceding organizations. Bronx AIDS Services was a grantee of the women-focused GENERATIONS initiative, which concluded in 2012. CitiWide Harm Reduction was awarded a grant through AIDS United’s Retention in Care (RiC) initiative in February, 2013 for a project called Bronx Health Connect.
Bronx Health Connect, while it the early stages of its implementation phase, aims to strengthen HIV treatment engagement by ensuring retention in care, as well as access and adherence to antiretroviral therapy for 100 people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) annually.
“The US National HIV/AIDS Strategy identifies retention in care as an important quality performance measure, yet there is no gold standard to measure retention in care,” said Robert Cordero, BOOM!Health’s President and Chief Program Officer. “Studies provide a national estimate of retention in HIV care in the US ranging from 71% to 75. BOOM!Health’s Bronx Health Connect project goal is 80% and is defined as people living with HIV/AIDS receiving HIV medical care at least once every three months for one year.”
BOOM!Health’s Vice President of Health Coordination, Les Rodgers, said that the Bronx Health Connect project has provided the opportunity for BOOM!Health to strengthen formal partnerships with some traditional and non-traditional partners, including HELP/PSI (an onsite Federally Qualified Health Center primary care provider) and Evers Pharmacy (a co-located full service community pharmacy).
“This is an unprecedented partnership for our community,” said Rodgers. “We are confident that working together, the Bronx Health Connect project will be able to effectively reengage people living with HIV/AIDS who have dropped out of care more effectively in more ways, including technology, intensive outreach, health navigation, peer support, and adherence reminders counseling. Our collaboration also offers connection to onsite primary care, behavioral health and pharmacy services, as well as housing placement assistance and supportive services.
According to Rodgers, a range of expanded HIV-related programs is available to all BHC program participants through the drop-in center, including a Mental Wellness program serving over 100 HIV positive active drug users led by a licensed bilingual (Spanish/English) MSW. These include individual counseling and crisis intervention by BOOM!Health’s bilingual health navigation and outreach staff, a variety of support groups, stress reduction; as well as peer support, mentoring and counseling by trained Peer Navigators.
Cordero said that thanks to harm reduction services offered by trail-blazing community based organizations over the last two decades, HIV in the Bronx has been significantly curbed but there is still more work to do. “Syringe exchange programs like ours and others in the Bronx have led the way in dramatically reducing HIV rates among injection drug users from over 50% in 1995, to fewer than 5% today,” said Cordero. “But we still have a lot of work to do. Based on our experience, harm reduction/syringe exchange programs need to look at the service needs of the whole person. The Bronx Health Connect project does just this by helping to identify and navigate the physical, emotional, psychological and socioeconomic issues that are prevalent among people living with HIV/AIDS in the so that they may access high quality HIV care onsite, in a culturally competent and nonjudgmental manner.”
Cordero is encouraged by the potential that support from AIDS United’s Retention in Care initiative offers BOOM!Health!, the Bronx Health Connect project and the community.
“The shift from categorically funded harm reduction and HIV/AIDS services towards Medicaid reimbursement-type models of comprehensive wellness services is occurring at a fast pace here in the Bronx and throughout the country,” he said. “With the Bronx Health Connect Project, BOOM!Health is well positioned to create a new future for Bronx’s most vulnerable people living with HIV/AIDS, and organizational sustainability for our exciting new organization, BOOM!Health.
For more information on BOOM!Health, visit www.boomhealth.org.