With new grants from the state and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Parkland hospital is targeting those at highest risk for contracting HIV — transgender people along with gay and bisexual men — for testing.
Darrel Bell, Parkland’s program manager for HIV prevention, said it may seem like an unusual role for a hospital but fits with the system’s community primary care facilities throughout the county. Several maintain specialties in HIV care.
“We’ve gotten into the prevention arena through our positives,” Bell said.
Using social networking, Bell is bringing people in for testing. He said the program is beginning with low-hanging fruit. Using incentives, he’s encouraging the partners and close friends of existing patients to be tested.
He said Parkland already serves about 4,000 people with HIV. At least half are in the target groups of gay and bi men and transgender people.
Bell said he hears a number of objections to getting tested.
“’I thought I’d wait until I got sick,’” he said is the most common, adding that this isn’t a good idea. “Don’t wait until you burn your bridges.”
Bell explained that his prevention work includes more than just initial infection. Re-infection is a serious problem in combating HIV.
Prescribing a drug regimen to fight HIV is not hit and miss. Genotype testing reveals a person’s drug resistance.
Counseling encourages those who are HIV-positive to have safe sex for their own protection, as well as their partner’s. Reinfection with drug-resistant strains of the virus may stop someone from continuing to successfully fight infection.
Since Parkland hospital takes care of the health needs of prisoners in the county’s jail, Bell’s team not only tests those in jail who request to know their status, but helps those who’ve been released to receive care.
The linkage to care program makes sure those released have enough medication until their next clinic visit. It also helps link people to programs that can help with other needs such as food, housing and transportation.
Bell said linkage to care is an important part of HIV treatment for many of his patients. If someone can’t get to Parkland for appointments, they won’t receive needed medication or monitoring of their status.
Parkland will be participating with other agencies in Zip Zap, a program that is targeting the zip codes with the highest new HIV diagnoses over the next two months.
“With our grants, we can test and assist anyone with risk reduction or linkage to care,” he said.
Risk reduction programs usually include at least four one-on-one counseling sessions that deal with a variety of subjects including stigma, disclosure and health maintenance, as well as linkage to care and referrals to programs in the community that fit that person’s needs.
“One thing we want to do is more community events that target the gay and transgender community,” he said.
He said to look for Parkland’s booth at Dallas Pride in September.
Anyone looking for free rapid testing, counseling or linkage to care for HIV-positive Dallas County residents can call 214-590-1536.