The LIAAC Blog

News and thoughts from the Long Island Association for AIDS Care

August 30, 2017
by Liaacinc
Comments Off on Opioids, Heroin: The Crisis Hits Home

Opioids, Heroin: The Crisis Hits Home

By Sara GuandoThe opioid epidemic has been declared a national emergency. In his remarks President Trump stated “Nobody is safe from this epidemic that threatens young and old, rich and poor, urban and rural communities.  Everybody is threatened.”[i] The statements have recognized a crisis that has been mounting over the years at a sweeping rate. Between 1999 and 2015, deaths from drug overdoses have quadrupled in the United States.

How did we get here?

In the mid-1990s, Oxycontin hit the market and the drug manufacturer, Purdue Pharma, began a large-scale marketing campaign for the drug. This seems typical for any new product but Purdue Pharma’s promotions were anything but typical. Knowing the apprehension of doctors to liberally prescribe opiates, Purdue Pharma marketing campaign included videos that positioned Oxycontin as a safe option for a variety of uses. They claimed that the risk of addiction was under one percent and encouraged both short and long term uses of the drug. As doctors accepted these claims to be true, prescriptions for Oxycontin grew rapidly in the late 1990s – early 2000s. The National Institute on Drug Abuse identified “drastic increases in the number of prescriptions written and dispensed, greater social acceptability for using medications for different purposes, and aggressive marketing by pharmaceutical companies” as key components of the onset of the nation’s ongoing opioid epidemic.[ii] In 2007, Purdue Pharma paid one of the largest pharmaceutical settlements in the amount of $634 million dollars, for its role in the opioid crisis. The company continues to face lawsuits around the country for misleading marketing.
How bad is it, really?

Fueled by a prescription drug addiction, users become more likely to try drugs intravenously and/or turn to heroin, both of which are cheaper options. According to a recent study, 75% of heroin users started by using prescription opioids.[iii]Additionally, because of the prescription opioid crisis, government agencies began cracking down on the prescription methods and practices. Databases were created as doctors and pharmacists suspected of not following guidelines were flagged and investigated. This led to prescription drugs being less available from reckless prescribing of opiates, and less capability for patients to “doctor jump,” meaning users were going to multiple doctors for similar problems and having multiple prescriptions written. However, whatever positive effect this may have had did not sustain, as these crackdowns are typically where the increase in heroin and injection drug use began. With prescription drugs less readily available, users attempted to obtain the drugs illegally, or turned to illicit drugs in their place. And so, America is now in the grips of a two-headed crisis, and this epidemic is not going down without a fight. The answers of how we move forward and combat this issue has proven controversial and time consuming as law makers and physicians seek the best response.

In the meantime…

  • 91 people die every day from opioid overdose.
  • 1 out of 10 new HIV diagnoses involve injection drug use.
  • If current rates continue, 1 in 23 women who inject drugs and 1 in 36 men who inject drugs will be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetime.
  • In the United States, injection drug use is the primary risk factor for transmitting Hepatitis C.

In short, this epidemic affects all areas of social, medical and mental health for users, families, and loved ones, and we need a solution.

I don’t use drugs. Why should I care?
I see it on the news. I hear about it. But, these drug addicts are making a choice. It’s their own fault.

 The issue is closer to home than you may realize. Heroin abuse has increased amongst most demographic groups: male, female, age categories, race/ethnicities, across incomes, and healthcare access. In fact, the highest increases of heroin abuse have been amongst demographics that were previously much less affected by the drug problem. Studies show “heroin use has changed from an inner-city, minority-centered problem to one that has a more widespread geographical distribution, involving primarily white men and women in their late 20s living outside of large urban areas.”[iv]And New York is no exception. From 2013 to 2014 overdose deaths caused by heroin increased over 24%, and have risen still since. Up to 500 people died on Long Island in 2016 from opioid overdoses, a new record high. And just this summer, in June 2017, over a two day period, nearly two dozen people overdosed on opioids.

 There is more danger to drug use than an overdose. The spread of disease, including HIV and Hepatitis is a huge concern. Mental illness, loss of work, and destruction of families are common as addiction takes hold of a person’s life. Treatment options are not as clear, nor as available, as other medical conditions. The societal stigma and criminal nature of illicit drug use can be incredibly damaging to people seeking help. Moreover, the fact that this crisis was created by the companies that we trust our lives and our quality of life with often goes unseen. Because of stigma, isolation, and the threat of having to stop using a drug they have become dependent on, users tend to live in the dark. Maybe not in dark, deserted alleys that TV suggests, but in the shadows of everyday life. They are our neighbors, friends, family members, who keep part of themselves as hidden as they can. So, we should all care. No one is a good, law-abiding person one day and then wakes up the next and decide to inject themselves with heroin.  It’s easy to blame a drug addict for “getting themselves addicted” but in reality; it’s more complicated than that.

How many degrees of separation are you from this crisis? Chances are, on Long Island, you aren’t far from it.

Next time, we will dive into the options. What can we do? How do we combat this epidemic and protect our loved ones? How do we get people the help they need, and stop the spread of HIV and Hepatitis? Join LIAAC for Part 3 of our blog series on the Opioid Crisis.

 

References

i. The White House. Remarks by President Trump Before a Briefing on the Opioid Crisis. (8 August 2017) https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/08/08/remarks-president-trump-briefing-opioid-crisis

ii.  Office of the New York State Comptroller, Thomas P DiNapoli. Prescription Opioid Abuse and Heroin Addiction in New York State. 2016 June. Retrieved from http://www.osc.state.ny.us/press/releases/June16/heroin_and_opioids.pdf

iii. Seelye, Katharine Q. The Numbers Behind America’s Heroin Epidemic. (30 Oct 2015) Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/10/30/us/31heroin-deaths.html

iv. Cicero, Thomas, Ellis, Matthew, & Surratt, Hilary. The Changing Face of Heroin Use in the United States: A Retrospective Analysis of the Past 50 Years. 2014 July. Retrieved from JAMA Psychiatry. http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/fullarticle/1874575

More References

Center for Disease Control. Drug Overdose Death Data.(December 2016) https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/data/statedeaths.html

“Purdue Pharma OxyContin Commercial” (22 Sep 2016) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Er78Dj5hyeI

“Purdue in $634 million settlement over Oxycontin” (20 July 2007) http://money.cnn.com/2007/07/20/news/companies/purdue/index.htm

Center for Disease Control. Understanding the Epidemic. (December 2016) https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/epidemic/index.html

Center for Disease Control. HIV and Injection Drug Use. (March 2017) https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/risk/idu.html

Campbell, Cecily, Canary, Lauren, Smith, Nicole, Teshale, Eyasu, Ryerson, Blythe, & Ward, John. State HCV Incidence and Policies Related to HCV Preventive and Treatment Services for Persons Who Inject Drugs — United States, 2015–2016. (12 May 2017) https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/66/wr/mm6618a2.htm

Morales, Mark. “Nearly 500 People Died on LI from Opioid Overdoses in 2016” Mark Morales (9 April 9 2017) http://www.newsday.com/long-island/nearly-500-people-died-on-li-from-opioid-overdoses-in-2016-1.13387679

Brooks, Khristopher. “Police: 22 opioid ODs, 1 fatality in 48 hours cause for concern” (30 June 2017) http://www.newsday.com/long-island/suffolk/police-22-opioid-overdoses-1-fatality-in-48-hours-a-cause-for-concern-1.13705833

August 14, 2017
by Liaacinc
Comments Off on The Affordable Health Care Act and Its impact on HIV/AIDS Affected Long Island

The Affordable Health Care Act and Its impact on HIV/AIDS Affected Long Island

By Kristina Robles

No matter what side of the national health care debate that you are on, there is no denying that the Affordable Health Care Act (ACA), or as it is nicknamed Obamacare, made significant changes to the treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS. Seven years after it was signed into law, the new Trump Administration seeks to repeal and replace ACA, which has many people worried about how this would affect those benefits gained through the act.

On March 23, 2010, the ACA was signed into law, changing how millions of Americans received health care coverage. One significant change, particularly to those living with HIV/AIDS and the people who are at high-risk of contracting the virus, was the expansion of Medicaid. The federally funded health care program provides coverage to low-income or disabled individuals and is the leading payer of HIV care in the country.

The act expanded eligibility to those with incomes at or below 133% of the Federal Poverty Line ($14,400 for an individual and $29,3000 for a family of 4), including single childless adults who were usually denied Medicaid unless they were diagnosed with AIDS. Now single HIV-positive individuals can get the care and treatment they need before the virus progresses to the more serious and life-threatening stage of AIDS. This new expansion is particularly important for many gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM). These populations are the most affected by the HIV epidemic. An epidemic that still has a significant impact on our Long Island community.

There is a false assumption that Long Island, being so close to New York City, is just as affluent as the big city to our West. While the Island is home to some of the countries richest neighborhoods, the reality is that the vast majority of Long Islanders are low to middle class. Unfortunately, due to the high cost of living and limited job opportunities, many Long Islanders live well below the Federal Poverty Line. As stated in a recent Newsday article, the Long Island Association found that just over 185,400 residents fall beneath the threshold, and when adjusted for the region’s high cost of living, they determined that another 56,000 people would be considered impoverished (Newsday, 2017).

More than 300,000 people on Long Island do not know how they will get their next meal (Newsday, 2017). Tragically, many people who are food-insecure[i] and HIV-positive have to decide between food and their life-saving HIV medications. Constant adherence to daily ART (antiretroviral therapy) medications is not only important for the infected person’s health but also to the HIV Epidemic as a whole, as people with undetectable viral loads do not transmit the virus to others. When people have to decide between food and their HIV/AIDS medicines, the fight to end the epidemic becomes more difficult. A very important concern since Long Island is considered to have the highest numbers of HIV cases of any suburban area in the nation. According to the latest New York State HIV/AIDS Annual Surveillance Report (2017), there are 5,685 people living with HIV and AIDS on Long Island, with the white MSM population being the most affected[ii]. These numbers do not include the many more cases that go unreported.

Thanks to the expansions in Medicaid coverage, more people have access to care and prevention services that they would not have been able to afford otherwise. In 2010, the average annual patient cost in the United States was $19,912, with the average person paying $9,360 yearly for ART, the cost of which grows as the infection progresses (Carter, 2010). It is important to note that this estimate does not include any mental health or substance abuse services needed by many HIV-positive patients. The ACA requires Medicaid and other insurers to cover Essential Health Benefits, including mental health and substance use services.

Medicare (a federally funded health coverage for seniors) is another significant payer of HIV care. The ACA is closing the coverage gap, or “donut hole”, during which enrollees of Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Benefit must pay in full for all medical services, drugs, and devices they need. It also makes AIDS Drugs Assistance Programs (ADAP) benefits count toward out of pocket limits, moving people through the gap faster and allowing them to resume coverage. It has been shown that Medicare patients who reach the gap are 57 percent more likely than those with continual coverage to stop taking critical heart medication (Rovner, 2012). It can be easily assumed that important ART and PrEP drugs are also sacrificed.

Beyond the federally funded health care programs, ACA allowed more people to obtain coverage, whether privately or through employers. No longer can an insurer deny coverage to children living with HIV/AIDS or any one with a pre-existing condition, nor can they refuse coverage because of a mistake on an application. Gone are the lifetime caps on insurance benefits that were easily surpassed if one is living with a chronic illness. HIV is a life-long illness, that if acquired at birth or a young age, can easily exceed those lifetime caps, leaving patients with a great financial burden.

For those who are not eligible for Medicaid/Medicare or are not insured under an employer, the act has set up online marketplaces and exchanges where people can shop for the best coverage for them and their families. To help people afford coverage, tax subsidies are available for those with low to middle-class income. The ACA also ensures that people who purchase their own coverage will get similar benefits to a typical employer plan, making sure that not only do they have coverage but access to quality care.

To ensure equal care, the ACA has increased funding for health centers and organizations in underserved areas, with great emphasis on preventative care. Coverage must include HIV screening for people ages 15-65 without additional costs such as co-payments or deductibles.

For all its positive changes for HIV/AIDS care (of which the benefits described above is only a portion), the ACA is not without its problems and criticism. For some, the act was overly regulating, and for others, it was not strict enough. But whether one is conservative, liberal, or somewhere in between there were a few issues that could be agreed on.

The new regulations had caused insurers to react with raising the costs for premiums, deductibles, and copayments. Other insurers have opted to leave the marketplaces and exchanges, which led to higher prices due to the lack of competition. And if an individual is not part of the 80 percent of Americans who are eligible for subsidies, nor does he or she receive insurance through his or her employer, the weight of higher costs could be overwhelming (Abelson & Sanger-Katz, 2016). This could lead to people opting out of coverage altogether or circumvent the open-enrollment rules, making the system less stable (Kodjak, 2016).

Time will tell if President Trump and his team will be able to repeal ACA. What is clear is that whatever the future of health coverage is, those affected by HIV/AIDS cannot be neglected. The HIV/AIDS epidemic has come a long way since its start in the 1980s, but we still have a long way to go before we end it. Equal access to quality health care and prevention services are key to doing so.

 

 

References

Abelson, Reed and Sanger-Katz, Margot (2016 October 25) A Quick guide to Rising obamacare Rates. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/26/upshot/rising-obamacare-rates-what-you-need-to-know.html

 

Carter, Michael (2010 September 27) HIV Treatment Is Costly, Especially For The Sickest Patients. NAMaidsmap. Retrieved from http://www.aidsmap.com/aboutus/Who-we-are/page/1276062/

 

The Editorial Board (2017 April 2) Push LI Poverty Out Of The Shadows. Newsday. Retrieved from http://www.newsday.com/opinion/editorial/growing-poverty-on-long-island-1.13345480

 

Kodjak, Alison (2016 November 1) Shopping For Obamacare Opens to Mixed Reviews From Consumers. NPR. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/11/01/500183737/insurance-open-enrollment-opens-to-mixed-reviews-from-consumers

 

Rovner, Julie (2012 April 17) Seniors In Medicare ‘Doughnut Hole’ More Likely To Stop Heart Drugs. NPR. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2012/04/17/150823790/seniors-in-medicare-doughnut-hole-more-likely-to-stop-heart-drugs

 

[i] For Long Islanders that are food-insecure and HIV-positive LIAAC’s Nutrition Health Education program may be able to help provide assistance with obtaining food. Please visit liaac.com or call 1-877-865-4222 for more information.

 

[ii] While Non-Hispanic whites (1,822 reported cases) are the most affected by HIV/AIDS on Long Island, they are closely followed by Non-Hispanic Blacks (1,683 reported cases), and Hispanics (1,593 reported cases).

July 31, 2017
by Liaacinc
Comments Off on Witnessing a Crisis: A Review of HBO Documentary “Warning: This Drug May Kill You”

Witnessing a Crisis: A Review of HBO Documentary “Warning: This Drug May Kill You”

By Sara Guando

As children we would defend ourselves with the old saying “stick and stones…” As adults we know that, yes, sticks and stones might break your bones but words can also hurt you. In this day and age, we also know that words are not always dependable. People are relying on mainstream news less than ever and that can be very dangerous. So, what can we rely on? What can we trust? Well, what about images? We don’t always talk about the effect of things we see, but images can be incredibly powerful. Images make us react – they can make us laugh, bring us to tears, or allow us to witness something about the world that we have never seen, or know nothing about. When we see something, it becomes more than just words on a page. So, let’s talk images.

We all have preconceived ideas about certain things. If I said “describe the best thing about summer” you may picture your favorite beach, your backyard pool, your family and friends at a barbeque. If I said “what’s the best thing about the morning?” you may think of a steaming cup of coffee in your favorite mug. But, if I said “tell me what a heroin user looks like” what would you picture? How does it make you feel? Can your idea of “a drug addict” ever be changed?The HBO Documentary “Warning: This Drug May Kill You” is series of images that can open up people’s eyes to the opioid epidemic that is often hidden and not fully understood. From the beginning, the documentary is an unflinching look at opioid use. It begins with a series of cell phone videos of people in the midst of an overdose. Facts about opioid use in America as it currently stands are shown on screen. The combination of these two images are concerning and provide no sugar coating to the crisis. The cell phone videos are then layered with audio from pharmaceutical marketing videos from the 90s. The marketing campaign, from Purdue Pharma (maker of OxyContin) promoted more generous use of opioids to treat pain and downsized the risk of addiction. The words spoken are in clear contrast with the images on screen. The drugs are being called safer and less addictive “than previously believed,” meanwhile, on screen, people on opioids are seen doubled over on sidewalks and buses, unable to keep their eyes open. As the pharmaceutical campaign is stating “less than one percent of patients taking opioids become addicted” cell phone videos of opioid overdoses appear, and the images of people doing CPR, yelling, and slapping those overdosing become overwhelming. Then, another fact: “deaths from prescription opioids have quadrupled since 1999.”

Throughout the documentary compelling stories are paired with powerful facts about the epidemic. The film predominantly follows the life of a young woman named Stephany, and her struggles with heroin – an addiction that, for her, began with being prescribed opioids for kidney stones at the age of 16. Stephany describes the progressive take-over of her addiction. She illustrates how she and her sister, Ashley, went from faking pain for prescriptions, to getting pills from friends, and then from snorting pills, to snorting heroin, to injecting the drugs. Stephany goes on to tell about the loss of her sister to a heroin overdose and the impact that has had on her life. We learn that 80% of heroin users start with prescription drugs.Perhaps more than the facts, a powerful feature of this documentary is that Stephany is the only heroin or prescription drug user that we meet throughout the film. None of the others are alive to tell their story. The rest of the stories we hear are from the loved ones of people that ultimately died of opioid overdoses. We hear about how loved they were, and how ordinary their lives were when they began. When clean, Wynn Doyle was a wonderful mother with a passion for a happy life and for her children. We learn that she quickly became reliant on prescription pills after her third C-section. Wynn tried to prevail. She went to rehab at least eleven times trying to conquer her addiction. Her children would search her home regularly for drugs, but through purposeful self-harm and “doctor jumping” Wynn continued to feed her addiction until her death. Through his parents, we meet Brendan Cole, the oldest brother of three boys, who died of a drug overdose in his parents’ home, within 24 hours of returning from rehab. Brendan’s struggles began at a young age, after a cyst removal. How could he or his family have known that a prescription to ease the pain of that procedure would ultimately take his life?

In a way, Stephany becomes more purposeful in understanding the “normalcy” of someone who becomes addicted to opioids, and then heroin. Not only is she telling her story first-hand but when we first see Stephany she’s clean. She is young, coherent, well-dressed. The viewer is sympathetic, if not relatable, to her emotions regarding her struggles, and the loss of her sister. However, when we return to Stephany’s story later, we see the addiction more than the girl. Stephany has relapsed and the viewer responds to this with steadfast emotion – anger, frustration, sadness. We watch as her daughter describes what steps she would take if she sees her mother overdosing. Stephany is unkempt, and distant, no longer communicating her feelings or telling her story. And this image is what many people see when asked “tell me what a heroin user looks like.” Many most likely no longer see someone who is relatable, who is “normal,” who you may love or who is in many ways just like you – a mother, a daughter, a brother, an only child, someone who was at a simple doctor’s visit one day, or had surgery, or had a baby. Yet it is in these small acts that so many people’s lives have changed forever.

The facts throughout this film are strong, but the images are what dominate in the viewer’s mind. However, for all of this unwavering, unforgiving effort to show the opioid crisis throughout the country, there are big pieces of the puzzle missing. In this man-made epidemic there are risks beyond addiction. The spread of HIV and hepatitis has been affected greatly by heroin and injection drugs. How did we get here? What can we do? The documentary is missing a lot of this vital and potentially life-saving information.

Join us on Part Two of this opioid blog series, where we will pick up the parts of this discussion that fell short, and how the epidemic is hitting home here on Long Island.

July 21, 2017
by Liaacinc
Comments Off on Fifth Annual African American Hepatitis C Action Day

Fifth Annual African American Hepatitis C Action Day

July 25, 2017 marks the Fifth Annual National African American Hepatitis C Action Day (NAAHCAD), lead by the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, Inc. (NBLCA) and the Coalition on Positive Health Empowerment (COPE). It is a day dedicated to promoting Hepatitis C prevention, testing, treatment, and Linkage to Care in our African American communities, and other at-risk people that are disproportionately affected by the virus.

According to the New York State Department of Health’s (NYSDOH) latest publication on the reported cases of communicable diseases, there were 1,400 reported cases of people living with Hepatitis C in Nassau and Suffolk County in 2015. And with the current opioid epidemic, and the increasing use of injection drugs, the numbers may rise further. In July 2017, the NYSDOH reported that over 5,300 Long Islanders have been admitted to an OASAS-certified chemical dependence treatment program, with the majority of clients living in Suffolk County.

Hepatitis C has been called the Silent Epidemic because many people who are infected with the Hepatitis C virus (HCV) do not show apparent symptoms for decades. It is most recognized in the chronic stages when liver damage has occurred.

HCV infections could range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks (acute infection), or a lifelong illness (chronic infection) that attacks the liver, resulting in liver problems, including cirrhosis or liver cancer. The virus is spread when infected blood enters the body of someone who is not infected.

There are several ways one could become infected, but sharing injection drug needles; being born to an infected mother, and blood transfusions and organ transplants before 1992 are the most common ways it is transmitted.

LIAAC will be participating in NAAHCAD by spreading Hepatitis C awareness and encouraging testing on our social media outlets. LIAAC provides free and confidential Hepatitis C testing as well as education and Linkage to Care services. For more information, or to schedule a Hepatitis C test, call our hotline at 1-877-865-4222.

July 6, 2017
by Liaacinc
Comments Off on A Message from the Board

A Message from the Board

On June 30th, Gail Barouh retired as CEO of LIAAC. The Board of Directors of LIAAC thanks Gail for over 30 years of service to the community of Long Island and wishes her a fulfilling and happy retirement. But we also have to express our sadness because part of the essential heart of LIAAC leaves with her. It’s hard to imagine LIAAC without Gail’s presence. For over 30 years she has been the animating spirit of the agency. LIAAC will continue to thrive and evolve in exciting new directions (thanks largely to the structures she has built), but it will deeply miss Gail’s creative and insightful leadership.

I first worked with Gail during the searing early days of the AIDS epidemic and personally witnessed her clarity and courage under fire. There was a lot of confusion, fear and shame at the time. She brought clear vision and a plan for an agency that could help thousands of desperate Long Islanders. She also brought confidence – one of the most important elements of leadership. In meetings with community leaders, with staff, with people living with HIV/AIDS, with their families, she radiated a quiet, determined confidence. In the midst of a great deal of despair, she offered practical ways to lessen the suffering. She didn’t minimize the problems we faced, but constantly expressed the belief that if we worked together we could begin to make things better.

It has often been said that it’s relatively easy to start an enterprise but very hard to keep it going (fiscally and programmatically) year after year. Well, it wasn’t easy to start LIAAC, but it really wasn’t easy to build it into a viable and effective agency. But that’s precisely what Gail did for over 30 years. She assembled focused teams and step-by-step built an agency that has become a leader in both community-based care for people living with HIV and community-based prevention. There were a great many obstacles – prejudice and fear were two of the worst – but LIAAC, under Gail’s leadership, consistently and creatively met the challenges of an evolving epidemic. When a volunteer force and a buddy system met the needs of the time, that’s what LIAAC became good at. When targeted case management was needed, LIAAC provided it. When a mobile-outreach testing program was needed for prevention, LIAAC became a leader in mobile-outreach. Potential problems were often on LIAAC’s radar well before many acknowledged them. The Hepatitis C crisis is an example.

If you were to ask Gail what she loved most about the work, my bet would be on the time she spent leading family support and bereavement groups. For years she helped hundreds of families who were struggling with sick and dying loved ones. She accompanied them over the long haul and then helped them grieve their loses. She was a genuine hero to these families. I know. I also worked with many of them. Gail was always ‘Hands On’ – and not just with support groups – she was the very opposite of a distant administrator.

It’s impossible to sum up 30 years of accomplishments in a few paragraphs. But it is possible to witness the end result of these accomplishments by looking at LIAAC today. LIAAC is as vital as it was in the first days of the epidemic. It has changed and evolved with the times, but remains, as always, the flexible servant of new challenges. LIAAC is a vital contributor to the well being of Long Island. The community is a better place because of this fine agency. The community is a better place because of the leadership and hard work of Gail Barouh. LIAAC’s ongoing work of service is her legacy. Thank you Gail.

John Haigney, Board Chair
For the Board of LIAAC

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June 28, 2017
by Liaacinc
Comments Off on An Interview with Dr. Gail Barouh: Long Island’s History with HIV/AIDS and the Accomplishments of LIAAC

An Interview with Dr. Gail Barouh: Long Island’s History with HIV/AIDS and the Accomplishments of LIAAC

By Sara Guando

Dr. Gail Barouh, President and CEO

This July, LIAAC congratulates President and Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Gail Barouh, for her incredible career with LIAAC and noble service to the Long Island community. As she begins her retirement we offer sincere gratitude to Dr. Barouh for her dedication and knowledge, leading the agency in successfully navigating the grips of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and expansion into a service provider for many other infectious and chronic diseases. Dr. Barouh recently sat down to look back on her 31-year journey with LIAAC, and provide her insight on the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

In 1986, America was in the midst of the nation’s most infamous epidemic. New York had the highest rate of HIV/AIDS in the nation, and though largely considered “a New York City problem,” the epidemic was rapidly taking its toll on Long Island. It was at this time the Long Island Association for AIDS Care (LIAAC), the nation’s first suburban-based AIDS service organization was founded. Dr. Gail Barouh, President and Chief Executive Officer of LIAAC since its inception, recalls people showing up at hospitals for care and being “put in cabs to go elsewhere,” and refers to this as a time of great prejudice, and more than prejudice, a time of tremendous fear. Looking back, she recalls that a large part of the fight against HIV/ AIDS came down to being a long education process, both for families and medical providers.

Dr. Barouh took her background in health education, and the diagnosis of a personal friend, as motivation to facilitate the first Long Island support and bereavement groups for those diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, as well as family members, loved ones, and friends of those infected. During a time of great adversity towards a disease that was not fully understood, and targeted populations of people believed to be responsible for it, Dr. Barouh envisioned an agency that would not only combat stigma, but assist individuals in navigating obstacles for necessary services. Dr. Barouh states that in developing LIAAC, the needs of HIV/AIDS patients were “too great” for LIAAC to be a walk-in facility. With this foresight, LIAAC developed a hotline to rapidly screen questions and created a mobile unit that would assist people within their own communities. In doing this, LIAAC was able to ensure optimal support, medical attention, and quality of life throughout Long Island. Both of these programs still exist and have proven to be invaluable in connecting people with support and help. LIAAC remains Long Island’s only bi-county, comprehensive community service-provider, with the region’s only HIV/AIDS Hotline.

It would be easy to say there is no bright side to an epidemic that has affected an immeasurable number of people throughout the world. However, with more than three decades of experience, Dr. Barouh states that there is a silver lining. First, with intense activism in the early days, people did not tolerate the amount of time it took to test drugs. Therefore, lifesaving medication was fast-tracked, a big step for HIV/AIDS, as well as other diseases such as cancer and hepatitis. Additionally, Dr. Barouh believes that rights for the LGBTQ community would not have reached the progression towards equality of today had it not been for HIV/AIDS. Prior to the epidemic “people lived in the shadows” but began coming out of the shadows and into the public eye because they were sick, and caring for loved ones who were sick. As a result, families and society started to see the LGBTQ population “as real people and a real community.” In this way, HIV/AIDS gave people the ability to be more themselves and overcome discrimination.

Since 1986, Dr. Barouh states that she has seen both positive and negative changes in the epidemic, and in society. She fears young people will fall into the cyclical nature of disease, in that currently the atmosphere of HIV/AIDS is that “most people think it’s not a problem anymore.” Advances in medication and technology have been invaluable to those diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, extending life expectancy and calming the panic of the disease. However, that does not make the disease devoid of hardships. Dr. Barouh reminds us that being on medication for HIV is a lifetime responsibility, and there is an extreme toll that the disease takes on the body.

Today, LIAAC has become a premier agency in educating the region about inaccuracies surrounding HIV/AIDS, preventive measures to diminish the spread of HIV/AIDS, as well as other infectious diseases. As a pioneer for suburban-based service providers, and the HIV/AIDS epidemic, Dr. Barouh’s expertise and compassion is irreplaceable. With Dr. Barouh’s guidance, LIAAC navigated a difficult path to success, and continues to serve as a role model agency of perseverance, diversity, and adaptability both regionally, and nationally. With unending gratitude, LIAAC wishes Dr. Barouh much happiness and success in all of her future endeavors.

June 23, 2017
by Liaacinc
Comments Off on Dr. Gail Barouh hosts LIAAC’s Girls Day Event

Dr. Gail Barouh hosts LIAAC’s Girls Day Event

By Sara Guando

Picture a CEO. Picture a business executive, a director of finance, or a panel of a company’s top leaders. What do you see? A quick Google image search of “CEO” revealed an interesting find; that only nine of the first one hundred pictures represented women, and one of those was CEO Barbie. Fortunately, this is not the case at the Long Island Association for AIDS Care (LIAAC). Led by Dr. Gail Barouh, President and CEO of LIAAC, the impressive roster of leadership and management at the agency is knowledgeable, skillful, and predominantly female.

On Thursday June 8th, Dr. Gail Barouh hosted a group of young women for an event of empowerment and education. Over a dozen motivated, ambitious girls attended the event where LIAAC’s accomplished panel of female executives, directors and management, discussed the challenges, as well as the advantages, of being a woman in a position of leadership.

Harriet Gourdine-Adams, Chief Officer for Care Coordination at LIAAC, explained that this event originated during a discussion of the unique challenges female executives face and the desire to share the trials and the triumphs of being a female executive with the next generation of young ladies. She believes that it is very motivating for a young girl to see a woman in a position of power. Dr. Barouh stated that she wanted to introduce the girls to “accomplished women who came to do this work from different walks of life, at different times in their life” to show that there is no single path to success. She explained to the girls that this was a unique experience for them, as at most companies you would not see a panel of its top leaders being female.

Dr. Gail Barouh leads the discussion along with LIAAC’s panel of female executives, directors, and management.

Along with Dr. Gail Barouh and Harriet Gourdine-Adams, Catherine Hart, LIAAC’s Chief Operating Officer participated at the event. LIAAC’s contributing panelists also included Marie Denis, Director of Quality Management/Compliance Officer, Michele Keogh, Director of Mobile Outreach, Jessica Totino, Director of Client Services, Julia Smith, Controller, Michele Mainella, Director of Finances, and Carol Cutrone, recently retired Chief of Staff.

The panel did not disappoint. The discussion began with each leader telling about her own background and career. Most of the women had started as volunteers or in other fields completely. They rooted a common idea into the minds of the participating young ladies ‘there is no singular thing that defines you. If you work hard, follow your heart and stay focused, women can accomplish anything.’ Marie Denis also reminded the girls that “you can change your mind, and your path, at any time. Never get stuck.” Catherine Hart commended working at LIAAC where “there is no glass ceiling for women.”

The girls participated in a question and answer session, where they discussed skills necessary to be a good leader as well as how to balance work with personal life. Throughout the discussion, Dr. Gail Barouh offered the girls her insight on what it means to run a company, make hard decisions, and tackle obstacles. She talked about being adaptable, along with the stresses of having to make decisions that some people may not always agree with. When LIAAC was in its infancy, Dr. Barouh recalls that there were fourteen agencies in New York State that dealt with HIV/AIDS, but only three were run by women. The women had a difficult time gaining ground and funding because opportunities for advancement were often controlled by men. Dr. Barouh told the girls “it is harder to be a woman in business, and in life” but that with confidence, open-mindedness, and hard work anything is possible.

The young ladies in attendance shared their dreams for the future. Among them were wishes to be a news reporter, an animator, a doctor, lawyer, marine biologist and fashion designer. Though each child has a unique future and path, they gained from this lesson the notions of female empowerment, being supportive of one another, and to always work hard and dream big.

Catherine Hart, Chief Operating Officer, explains some of the roles and responsibilities of being an executive as the girls tour LIAAC’s building.

 

 

June 20, 2017
by Liaacinc
Comments Off on LIAAC Speaks to Teens About Healthy Relationships

LIAAC Speaks to Teens About Healthy Relationships

By Kristina Robles

What is a healthy relationship? It is a question that would stump many adults. But what about those who are at the beginning of their dating experience.  On Sunday, June 11, 2017, LIAAC’s Leah Richberg joined Charlene Rogers, of Long Island Against Domestic Violence (LIADV), in speaking to local teens from the Youth Leadership Caucus (YLC) about how to build healthy relationships and the warning signs of abuse, as part of an interactive workshop for Presiding Officer and 15th District Legislator DuWayne Gregory’s inaugural Youth Leadership Summit.

According to Rogers, a staggering one-third of teens are affected by dating abuse. During the workshop, the teens learned about the many types of abuse, not just physical violence. It is going through someone’s cell phone without permission; forcing someone to stop speaking to his or her friends; or keeping track of other’s social media activity. Abusive behavior is anything that is used to gain power over someone else, or as Rogers likes to explain, anything that has “PPC”­– pattern, power, control.

LIAAC’s Leah Richberg speaks to teens from the Youth Leadership Caucus about Healthy RelationshipsDuring the discussion about the warning signs of abuse, the teens were surprised that jealousy, even a small amount, was a relationship “red flag”. Many believed that a small amount of jealousy was a sign of affection and only was a problem when it escalated into extreme behavior. Rogers explained to them that jealousy can be used as a tool to control and manipulate emotion; and warned against “quick involvement”, when the other person takes the relationship too serious, too quickly.

Richberg spoke to them about the importance of good communication and compromising, values which can be used beyond dating and into their academic and professional careers.  She talked to them about setting up boundaries and standing firm behind them, saying, “No one can make you do anything you don’t want to do.” A few of the teens admitted that they, or people they know, have been asked to do something they were not comfortable doing. Richberg showed them ways to navigate the touchy subject of boundaries with their partners or future partners.

By the end of the workshop the teens left with a better understanding of what a healthy relationship should look and feel like; how sharing your life with someone does not mean scarifying parts of it, but enhancing, lifting, and supporting each other equally.

The Youth Leadership Caucus was founded by Presiding Officer and 15th District Legislator DuWayne Gregory to encourage minority youths, grades 8-12, to become civically involved in their community. These teens come from all over the Town of Babylon and meet semi-monthly to discuss the issues that affect them. During the summit on Sunday, YLC members, and other youths from the surrounding communities, could sit in for two workshops, choosing from a variety of different topics, such as: Mental Health and Youth, Healthy Relationships, Insidious Racism, Stress Management, Environmental Strategies, Effects of Drugs on Youth, and Do’s and Don’ts of Social Media.

Other organizations that participated in the summit, along with LIAAC and LIADV, were the Suffolk County Human Rights Commission, Amityville Memorial High School, Starflower Experience, I Affirm Wellness, Suffolk County Legislature, and Suffolk County Department of Labor.

The inaugural event was a big success with dozens of local teens in attendance, all of them leaving with invaluable information they can use to build their futures and the future of our communities.

Panel speaks to the members of the Youth Leadership Caucus and local teens.

May 24, 2017
by Liaacinc
Comments Off on LIAAC Announces Chief Operating Officer’s Retirement

LIAAC Announces Chief Operating Officer’s Retirement

The Long Island Association for AIDS Care, Inc. (LIAAC) announces the retirement of Catherine Hart, LMSW, Chief Operating Officer and 20 year agency veteran. Her last day will be June 30, 2017. Under Catherine’s leadership, LIAAC obtained over 30 million dollars in federal funding awards from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and Office of Minority Health (OMH). Catherine pioneered LIAAC’s Health Homes Medicaid program, which provides services to thousands of Long Islanders infected/affected with HIV/AIDS and other chronic illnesses.

Dr. Gail Barouh, LIAAC President and CEO, praised Catherine who started as a volunteer on the HIV/AIDS hotline during the height of the AIDS epidemic. In 1997, Catherine joined LIAAC as an employee and went on to hold various agency positions until becoming COO in 2009. Beyond her work within the agency, Catherine also mentored young social work interns from Stony Brook University and Adelphi University.

As a family member of a relative who died of HIV/AIDS early in the epidemic, Catherine always brought compassion, respect, and dedication to all clients and their families.

Although her retirement is well earned and deserved, Catherine will be greatly missed by all the LIAAC staff. The Board of Directors thanks Catherine for her pioneering efforts and appreciates her many years of service to the agency and Long Island. We wish Catherine all the best in her retirement.

May 18, 2017
by Liaacinc
Comments Off on The Long Island Association for AIDS Care (LIAAC) recognizes National Prevention Week

The Long Island Association for AIDS Care (LIAAC) recognizes National Prevention Week

National Prevention Week takes place annually, and is dedicated to increasing public awareness of substance abuse and mental health issues. This year the event takes place May 14 -20. The three primary goals of National Prevention Week are: to involve communities in raising awareness of behavioral health issues and in implementing prevention strategies; to foster partnerships and collaboration with federal agencies and national organizations dedicated to behavioral and public health; and to promote and disseminate quality behavioral health resources and publications. This year, Prevention Week takes place from May 14 to May 20, 2017 and the overall theme is “Making Each Day Count”.

Dr. Barouh, LIAAC’s President/CEO, states that raising community awareness about the effects of heroin overdoses starts with first, educating the community about the connection between opioid prescription drug use/misuse, heroin addiction and mental illness; second, for those in need of help, provide the necessary referral linkages to treatment and other supportive services.

Currently, the United States has been within the grip of a devastating opioid abuse crisis, one from which Long Island is not immune. According to the New York State Comptroller’s 2016 report on prescription opioid abuse and heroin addiction, Suffolk County had the highest rate of heroine overdoses of all the counties in the state. It is important that we take this week as an opportunity to speak to young people about the dangers of abusing prescription and illicit drugs, such as bodily damage, infectious diseases, and even death.

The Long Island Association for AIDS Care will be celebrating National Prevention Week by offering free and confidential testing for HIV, Hepatitis C and sexually transmitted infections. The Long Island Association for AIDS Care will also be participating in National Prevention Week’s “I Choose” Project, a social media campaign aimed at sharing personal messages about the importance of prevention and mental health.

For more information about how the Long Island Association for AIDS Care is celebrating National Prevention Week, visit our events page at https://facebook.com/LIAAC.inc/events, visit our website at http://www.liaac.org/, or call our hotline at 1-877-865-4222