November 6, 2007

(L-R) Treatment Adherence Specialists Sanna Moore and Max D. Hernandez, Peer Educator Patricia Woods, and Trainer Mondo Blue.

"HIV treatment isn't just about putting a pill in your mouth—it's about taking care of yourself."— ASC Treatment Adherence Specialist Max D. Hernandez

We know that HIV treatment saves lives. But some people living with HIV/AIDS have trouble staying on track, especially those for whom poverty, homelessness, substance abuse, or mental illness is a fact of life. ASC's treatment education and adherence program makes it easier to access treatment, partner with doctors, and stick to treatment regimens.

"We're the go-to people when it comes to treatment," explains ASC Treatment Adherence Specialist Max D. Hernandez. "Our job is to demystify the world of HIV medications, offer strategies for coping with side effects, and give clients tools to fit their medical regimens into their lifestyles."

Treatment adherence is typically viewed as a medical service, but ASC has enormous success providing this service in a community setting. Since many people we serve avoid doctors' offices, hospitals, and medical clinics, this is critical.

As ASC Treatment Adherence Specialist Sanna Moore observes, adherence can be particularly overwhelming for clients being treated for multiple health problems, including HIV, diabetes, asthma, and psychiatric conditions.

"I recently worked with a very ill man who'd been discharged from a nursing home with a box of 20 medications and no services in place," says Moore. "ASC's case managers helped him find housing, and I helped him sort through his prescriptions to decipher what had to be taken when and how to stay on track."

Fear is another major barrier to obtaining and maintaining treatment, adds Mondo Blue of ASC's treatment education team. "Our job is to break down fear through education, workshops, counseling, and group support. We also coordinate with medical providers and teach clients to find information about HIV treatments online."

Treatment adherence services are vital because the price of non-adherence is high. Skipping doses of HIV medication, taking medications incorrectly, or stopping treatment altogether can bring on resistance to HIV medications. That means fewer treatment options as time goes by—a dangerous prospect for people fighting to maintain quality of life in the face of HIV/AIDS.

"People who most need HIV treatment adherence services are not walking through clinic doors," observes ASC's Deputy Executive Director for Planning Kim Atkins. "Treatment adherence programs in hospitals or medical facilities can be great because they round out what doctors do. But they don't reach people who aren't getting to the doctor to begin with."

That's where ASC's treatment education and adherence services come in. "People who desperately need HIV primary care, but aren't going to a doctor or clinic on a regular basis, are seen by ASC case managers, community outreach team, and follow-up staff," explains Atkins. "Through these contacts, clients become engaged in ASC's community treatment program. The information and support we provide moves them closer to having a medical home."

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