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Area Agency on Aging HIV care pursuit marks 30 years in Valley of the Sun

Photo of a client at the Area Agency on Aging
Area Agency on Aging, in the early days of the discovery of the Advanced Immune Deficiency Syndrome, established HIV Care Directions, a specialized case management unit for people living with HIV.
(File Photos/DigitalFreePress.com)

Area Agency on Aging remains steadfast to HIV effort

Staff Reports | Digital Free Press

Thirty years ago, when the Area Agency on Aging was awarded funding from what is today known as the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, there were those who were surprised.

After all, the Area Agency on Aging was best known for providing services to older adults. What was not so well known was that the agency’s support case management was already serving those who were HIV positive — about 2% of its client base — at a time when the prognosis for HIV-positive individuals was clearly troublesome. In fact, the Area Agency had been serving individuals 18 and older with disabilities and long-term needs since the early 1980s.

With the grant award, the Area Agency established HIV Care Directions, a specialized case management unit for people living with HIV.

“What stands out to me is that today, with 50% of people living with HIV are over the age of 50, the foresight of knowing this was a good fit for the agency and the community is more important than ever,” said Area Agency on Aging President and CEO Mary Lynn Kasunic, in a prepared statement.

“Thirty years ago, I heard that although there were many caring volunteers at HIV/AIDS service agencies trying to help people who were HIV positive, they didn’t have the experience or resources that were critical. We were able to provide those services and we still do.”

Since those early years, HIV Care Directions, a nationally accredited professional case management program, has served more than 10,000 individuals. Services include access to and maintenance of primary medical care and medications, transportation for HIV care-related services, financial assistance for medical copays and housing services and advocacy.

Case managers conduct assessments, develop individualized care plans and connect individuals to medical providers, HIV service organizations, government agencies and community resources to meet and accomplish individual healthcare needs and goals.

For Eric Moore, it was lifesaving.

“In 2000, I lost my job, needed rental assistance and was on the verge of suicide,” the now 53-year-old social worker said. “A case manager recognized that and laid down some pretty strict rules. I ended up in the hospital for four days on suicide watch but that was the point that I started building things back up. Without the help and intervention of that particular case manager, there’s an even chance I wouldn’t be here having this conversation with you.”

He’s never forgotten.

“The phone number for HIV Care Directions is one of the few that I still have memorized,” he said, a number he’s shared with many people over the years. “If I didn’t think it would be helpful, I’d never mention it.”

“As individuals with HIV live longer, HIV Care Directions is a great intersection between HIV services and older adults because case managers can stay on top of what services and support are required for their specialized needs,“ Mr. Kasunic said. “It’s a perfect fit.”

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