“We always say that we’re the best kept secret in Virginia.”
Dr. Tanya Kearney, director of the Virginia HIV-AIDS Resource and Consultation Center in Norfolk is talking about the wide-ranging scope of services offered by the center.
We are at Gethsemane Community Fellowship Baptist Church on Brambleton Avenue on the morning of the 2016 World AIDS Day Walk. The church is humming with activity as people from all over Hampton Roads gear up for the 11th annual walk to the EVMS Resource Center’s office in The Hague.
The walk is a culmination of a year’s work by over a dozen area churches, individuals, nonprofits, and philanthropic organizations. It’s the centerpiece of a multi-day commemoration that includes a Remembrance and Celebration of Life Gala at EVMS.
The World AIDS Day events are just one of several other activities during the year designed to bring attention to HIV and AIDS affected communities.
Dr. Kearney and the Center are the glue that pulls those organizations together.
“We get together on a monthly basis and talk about what we’re going to do,” Dr. Kearney said. ” If you come up with the idea, you implement it, and we all chip in.”
As huge of an undertaking as those events are, they are but a small part of Dr. Kearney and the Center’s responsibilities.
The Center’s primary purpose is to provide education to primary care physicians, students, and other healthcare professionals on the care and management of people with HIV and AIDS. Most of the Centers’’ funding comes from the Commonwealth’s operating budget with some supplemental grants.
Three Virginia Resource Centers were founded in 1989 and enacted under Virginia Code 32.1-11.2. The Norfolk Center oversees satellite clinics and has clinical workers through eastern Virginia, including the Eastern Shore and Middle Peninsula. The other two are located in Richmond and Springfield
“We’re the only such resource centers in the country that I’m aware of with that sort of dedicated state code funding,” said Kearney.
Since the founding of the Centers 27 years ago, the communities most affected by HIV/AIDS have evolved from primarily gay men to African American women. And Eastern Virginia from Richmond to Virginia Beach has one of the highest percentages of HIV and AIDS in the southeast.
“We’re at the epicenter here,” she said. “So our clinical, educational, and consultative outreach to health care workers is even more urgent.”
The Center also provides housing assistance, treatment, and insurance and medication counseling directly to people affected by HIV/AIDS.
“We have several caseworkers whose primary goal to is to, through referral, reach out to people in need of care,” she said.
“Our workers use their cars and phones, and go out into the community, hold those people by the hand and bring them into a care program at whatever level they require.”
Their most urgent outreach program for both patients and primary care providers involves education about Pre-Exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a daily preventative medication for people who do not have HIV but who are at substantial risk of getting it.
“Ultimately, our goal is prevention,” said Dr. Kearny. “But most of the medical providers we work with are either not familiar with PrEP or know very little about it. So we’re in the grassroots stage trying to educate and help prescribers and providers know where to get it.”
And therein lies the challenge facing not only the Resource center, but all health care providers and agencies in the region: education and assistance.
But today, Dr. Kearney, her staff, volunteers, and about 100 walkers are here to remember those who have passed before.
And maybe, thanks to their work, there won’t be a need for an AIDS Walk in our future.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Virginia HIV/AIDS Resource and Consultation Center
Eastern Virginia Medical School
358 Mowbray Arch
Smith Rogers Hall, Room 107
Norfolk, VA 23507