Las Vegas Sun

December 17, 2017

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Resources for Las Vegans with HIV continue to evolve with changing needs

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Mikayla Whitmore

Two panels from the AIDS quilt were hung inside the Center, part of World AIDS Day in Downtown Las Vegas, Nev. on November 28, 2017.

Did you know?

10,823 individuals are living with HIV in Nevada. As of 2016, there were 9,361 people in Clark County living with HIV, 469 of whom were newly diagnosed, according to the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health.

Resources in the valley

• Aid for AIDS of Nevada (AFAN): 1120 Almond Tree Lane; 702-382-2326; afanlv.org

• Golden Rainbow: 714 E. Sahara Ave.; 702-384-2899; goldenrainbow.org

• Huntridge Family Clinic: 1830 E. Sahara Ave.; 702-979-1111; huntridgefamilyclinic.org

• The Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada: 401 S. Maryland Parkway; 702-733-9800; thecenterlv.org

• Las Vegas Ryan White Program, Clark County Social Services: 1600 Pinto Lane; lasvegasema.org

• Southern Nevada Health District Sexual Health Clinic: 280 S. Decatur Blvd.; 702-759-0702; southernnevadahealthdistrict.org/sexual-health-clinic

• St. Therese Center HIV Outreach: 241 Palo Verde Drive, Henderson; 702-564-4224; sainttheresecenter.org

The Affordable Care Act allowed those with HIV to obtain health insurance by banning the denial of coverage based on pre-existing conditions. It also expanded Medicaid, making access to health care more obtainable.

Like many people diagnosed with HIV in the 1980s, James Foley thought he was going to die.

“I never expected to be here today, but here I am,” he said. “I don’t think people quite understand where we came from. They don’t really know where we were then and where we are now.”

On the heels of the 29th annual World AIDS Day, which was Dec. 1, Foley is overcome with a mixture of emotions — survivor’s guilt, sadness and astonishment about how the resources addressing HIV have changed.

When Antioco Carrillo, the executive director of Aid for AIDS of Nevada, came into the HIV outreach scene in the early 1990s, the mission was mostly about helping newly diagnosed people come to terms with their disease.

“Back then, we were assisting people in planning for their death and dying,” Carrillo said.

At that time, Carrillo also joined other health outreach coordinators to go into bars and clubs, trying to teach people about prevention and encouraging them to know their status. They even began setting up blood-drawing stations that allowed people to get their results in two weeks, which was the fastest turnaround time to test for the virus back then.

People weren’t just scared of dying, but also death without dignity from losing their jobs and housing.

“They were in the closet with the door nailed shut,” Foley said.

Such fear wasn’t unfounded.

Gary Costa, executive director at Golden Rainbow, said in 1987 a local entertainer was diagnosed with AIDS, lost his apartment as a result and was forced to move in with family members who were terrified of the disease.

“So he died in their garage,” Costa said.

Golden Rainbow was born the same year, with the entertainment community staging fundraisers to raise money to help people with HIV deal with housing issues.

Then came a wave of new HIV treatments.

“There are great medications that allow people to live a healthy, normal life,” Carrillo said. “You’re now living with a chronic condition and take medication just like other people with high blood pressure or high cholesterol.”

With stronger treatments, people began to live longer, so organizations started changing their focus.

AFAN provides case management to look at such issues as medical needs and the stability of a client’s employment and housing. It provides bus passes, food vouchers and rental assistance, among other services.

Carrillo said AFAN sees about 1,400 recurring clients per year who continue to see case managers until they find stable footing.

What the organization can’t assist with, it refers to other organizations such as Golden Rainbow, which can help with housing, rent and utilities.

Also in the mix is the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada (the Center), which refers clients to organizations that can help them find local HIV health care specialists.

While working in different spaces, the various organizations agree that collaboration has improved and the nonprofits rely more on one another.

Costa said in the past few years, there has been a push for mobile facilities to accompany the testing done at AFAN, the Center and Southern Nevada Health District.

In addition to decreasing the number of new infections, organizations continue to figure out better ways to help those living with HIV, such as increasing access to mental health services.

While organizations have changed, so has Foley’s life.

He has worked in HIV education and outreach for nine years and currently is an HIV outreach specialist at the Center. No longer hiding his status, Foley speaks frequently about living with the virus and even runs peer-facilitated support groups at the Center.

While he is outspoken on the importance of knowing your status and the availability of resources, he is determined to ensure those living with the virus don’t fear their diagnosis.

“I wish I could have been as brave (then) as I am now,” Foley said. “It would have saved me some heartache.”