Success Stories How We Are Working to End the HIV EpidemicViral load suppression is the ultimate goal of HIV care. Viral load suppression happens when people who are living with HIV are taking their medications as prescribed. The medications reduce a person’s viral load to an undetectable level. A person living with HIV with an undetectable viral load cannot pass the HIV virus through sexual contact. Through the hard work of our clinical staff, our clinic recently reached a viral load suppression (VLS) rate of 92%, the highest it has ever been for our clinic!The clinic staff has been working tirelessly not just to continue providing compassionate and competent HIV care, but to work individually with clients struggling to become suppressed to identify their barriers and come up with solutions that work for them. This individualized approach, along with the other essential programs of our ministry such as housing for those who have been homeless, have led to these great health outcomes!National Recognition for Our WorkThe Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Program Center for Quality Improvement & Innovation (CQII) launched the end+disparities ECHO Collaborative in 2018. This 18 month, national collaborative was focused on reducing HIV disparities in HIV care.Our clinic participated in this collaborative and worked to design interventions to help clients achieve viral load suppression. Our goal was to achieve viral load suppression for 40% (6/15) of the clients in our cohort. By the end of the collaborative, we had achieved viral load suppression for 62% (8/13) of the clients!CQII selected 12 clinics and medical centers nationwide to be spotlighted for their improvement journeys. Our clinic was one of the 12 in the nation that was selected to present our success as a model for others. In addition to presenting in Washington, D.C., we were also asked to present our success in a webinar that reached a national audience.Our Award-Winning Children’s ProgramOur children’s program was the recipient of Akron Children’s Hospital Mahoning Valley’s “Children’s Advocate Award.” This award was presented to our staff at the annual Champions for Our Valley’s Children celebration. The award recognizes organizations in our community who work to make a difference in the lives of children and who display a “spirit of caring.” We are honored to receive this recognition for our work with meeting the academic, social, and emotional needs of children living with or affected by HIV in our community.Some of Our Children’s Success StoriesSheila“Sheila” started in the children’s program as an infant and began attending our tutoring program in kindergarten. While completing homework during tutoring she would “shut down” several times. Because our staff was trauma-informed, we reacted with empathy, patience, and compassion. We were able to help her with her homework and to build a relationship with her. By sharing our observations with her caregiver, she began counseling and learned effective methods to regulate her reactions to circumstances. However, school continued to be difficult for her. With our assistance and the patience and skill of several tutors, she was able to continue to earn her high school credits and to make progress towards being confident and accepting herself. Currently, she is earning good grades, works, is engaged in positive relationships, and is healing from the adverse events of her past. Alaina“Alaina” is a preschooler in our home visit program. Through close contact with her and her mother, we have been able to provide comfort, assistance, and information as needed. Our home visiting program for preschoolers provided role modeling and education for her mother regarding early language skills formation and infant development, and diapers and formula. We assisted the family with transportation to medical appointments and prescription pickup. By working closely with other home visiting programs and preschools, a comprehensive and optimum care group was created. Through this collaboration we were able to help the family enroll “Alaina” in preschool and to overcome barriers such as completing paperwork, remembering deadlines, and having transportation to attend the school’s open house. Today she is a little girl who sparkles with joy, loves books, and is developing language skills. We have no doubt that a bright and successful future awaits her!Family Support Our program helps children, but it also provides help for the entire family unit. One of our families has many young children. The parents are committed to each other, but with an HIV diagnosis, a mental health diagnosis, two children with special needs, and unreliable transportation, this family had a lot of love, but the lack of resources was becoming detrimental to their well-being. We assisted this family with wrap-around support, acceptance, and love. When needed, we provided food assistance and transportation to medical appointments. Our tutoring program is helping two of the children keep up with their schoolwork and makes sure they have all of their needed school supplies, while our preschool program assists the younger children. Our young adult program has helped the mother to enroll in college, and she has finished her first semester on the honor roll! Our monthly social support group and congregate meal is a highlight of this family’s month. It allows the family to be supported by a community of others living with HIV, to build friendships, and for the adults to have time while the children are enjoying games and activities in our children’s play group. Our outstretched hand and kind words helped this family experience success and provided them with a light in times of darkness.Helping the Homeless Lead Healthier LivesThe Ursuline Sisters have a proud history of responding to the needs of the times. As our ministry staff began to identify more people in our ministry who were homeless or who had unstable housing, we decided that we needed to do something. In 2015, our ministry began a housing program for people who are living with HIV and who are homeless. Our housing program now includes both permanent supportive housing and an emergency shelter for people living with HIV. The hope for this new housing program was that by providing quality, affordable housing for some of the most distressed in the community, this would also lead to improved health outcomes for them.Our results have exceeded even our wildest hopes! Those participating in our housing program have maintained or made exceptional gains with achieving viral load suppression. Of the 16 clients who have been a part of our program, eight were virally suppressed upon entry and have maintained their viral load suppression. Five have become suppressed since entering our housing program. Three have not yet achieved viral load suppression, but all three have reduced their viral load. In other words, all of the clients in our housing program have either maintained viral load suppression, became virally suppressed since being housed, or have made gains towards becoming suppressed! This is a remarkable achievement, especially considering the challenges that many of the clients in our housing program have faced with poverty and homelessness.