Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is the virus that can cause Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). While many advancements have been made in treatment, there’s still no cure for HIV/AIDS. However, with proper treatment, people with HIV can live long, healthy lives. Fortunately for Madison-area residents living with HIV, there’s a clinic that can meet all of their healthcare and social service needs.
The AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin (ARCW) is Wisconsin’s largest and fastest-growing HIV healthcare system. ARCW has 10 offices and clinics in Wisconsin, all of which are easily accessible, including in Madison. In carrying out its mission, ARCW is committed to helping everyone with HIV regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or economic status.
When Bryan first learned he had HIV, he was overwhelmed. “Since I was diagnosed, I’ve been clinically depressed.” After a friend referred him to ARCW Madison, things began to turn around. “My whole life changed. They provide me with healthcare and programs, like the food pantry, housing, and case management. They helped me make decisions that were so daunting. They gave me the tools to make them, and I started taking ownership over my life. ARCW was a huge help to me.” For several years now, Bryan has had an undetectable viral load, the healthiest a person can be living with HIV.
Each person’s HIV disease is as unique as they are, and requires a personalized treatment plan not only to manage their health needs, but to eliminate the other day-to-day barriers they can face that prevent them from taking care of their health. Through its integrated model of care, the ARCW Medical Home offers care designed to meet each individual’s specific treatment needs. Patients have access to doctors, nurses, dentists, therapists, and other healthcare providers with a pharmacy and dedicated social services. Each service is available in one location at ARCW Madison, eliminating the barrier of time off work to visit multiple locations on different days.
The goal of everyone at ARCW is to help every patient achieve HIV treatment success and a healthy life, shown in the 91 percent of our patients who have achieved an undetectable viral load. Comprehensive dental care is an essential part of this success. A team of oral healthcare providers deliver expert care in a welcoming, patient-friendly environment and help provide the best chance of successful HIV treatment.
More than half of all HIV patients confront mental health challenges. Depression, anxiety, stress, and addiction are some of the conditions common among people living with HIV. The mental and behavioral healthcare providers at ARCW are highly experienced in HIV-related issues. People living with HIV improve mental and emotional health through counseling, psychotherapy, psychiatric evaluation, and alcohol and other drug treatment services. For patients who face transportation challenges, ARCW recently added a telehealth service, allowing for patients across the state to be able to remotely access mental health at their local clinic through a real-time conversation through a secure webcam.
The single most important biomedical factor in treating HIV is medication therapy. Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) slows the progression of the virus in the body. When taken every day, it can lead to an undetectable viral load and reduce the risk of further transmission. The ARCW Pharmacy specializes in HIV care and is dedicated to meeting all patient medication needs. It provides the most advanced HIV medications and outstanding personal support for successful HIV treatment. ARCW pharmacists are HIV experts and offer ongoing counseling to help individuals manage and adhere to medications. Pharmacy staff work closely with healthcare teams of patients and clients to find the best ART regiment for each person.
Additionally, in order to assist patients with their medication adherence and reduce wait times for refills on prescriptions, the pharmacy offers hassle-free delivery and shipping. Treating HIV is expensive, and out-of-pocket costs can exceed $1,500 per month for medications alone. For patients who can’t afford their HIV medications, the ARCW Medication Assistance Program provides financial help to assure all patients receive the medications they need, even if they are living in poverty or do not have insurance.
Oftentimes it can take more than medication to successfully treat HIV. ARCW helps eliminate serious barriers to successful HIV treatment, such as homelessness, poor nutrition, discrimination, benefit denials, and poverty, which are common problems that can overwhelm patients. These problems can become so severe that it’s impossible for patients to give the attention needed to their HIV treatment plans.
No one should face the difficult battle against HIV disease on an empty stomach. It’s important to have fresh, nutritious food to gain the strength needed to overcome HIV and gain a healthy life. That’s why ARCW created the largest statewide network of HIV-dedicated food pantries in the country.
People living with HIV have legal rights designed to protect people from discrimination, assure their confidentiality, and guarantee they cannot be denied healthcare. However, even with strong Wisconsin laws, many HIV patients still face discrimination, denial of benefits, and even the refusal of healthcare providers to provide them with treatment. Attorneys at ARCW are dedicated to fighting for individual rights and making sure everyone with HIV is treated fairly.
Having a place to call home is one of the most important reasons patients succeed with HIV treatment. With safe and affordable housing, it’s easier to focus on a treatment plan, medication adherence, and health improvement. ARCW offers comprehensive housing services designed to meet the many different housing challenges HIV patients confront. ARCW housing specialists work with clients to assess their needs and provide an array of services to assist in securing safe and stable housing, including financial assistance, housing case management, intensive housing counseling, transitional residential housing, and family residential housing.
Nothing is more important for people with HIV disease than having access to quality healthcare. For some HIV patients, the healthcare system is complex and often difficult to navigate. Adding to this frustration is the complicated system of health insurance and government health programs that provide the benefits to pay for healthcare. Social work case managers are partners in planning the best way for our patients and clients to have their needs met. Case managers work together with clients, healthcare providers, and others involved in the continuum of care for a complete approach to meeting patient needs. ARCW social work case managers’ top priorities are to help clients get enrolled in quality HIV healthcare and to make sure their healthcare benefits are secured.
All of these social services are integrated with the medical, dental, pharmacy, and mental health services to create the ARCW Medical Home model of care. Together these comprehensive services provide the highest quality of care and the greatest opportunity for HIV treatment success.
The outcomes for ARCW patients speak to the success of the model that they have built. People with HIV live longer, healthier lives in Wisconsin than any other state, and ARCW patients have less emergency department visits, shorter and fewer hospitalizations, and have fewer health-related costs when compared to patients receiving care elsewhere. More than 97 percent of ARCW patients would recommend ARCW to a friend or family member living with HIV.
Until a cure for HIV is found, preventing the spread of HIV is our greatest challenge. Saving lives from HIV requires aggressive strategies to reach people at high risk with information and materials they can use to prevent HIV infection. ARCW prevention services are designed to provide information and materials people can use to reduce or eliminate risk of infection. HIV prevention services will help stop the spread of HIV, especially for sexually active persons or injection drug users.
The newest tool in preventing the spread of HIV is PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis). It’s an HIV prevention strategy for people who are at high risk for HIV infection. People using PrEP take a pill every day to help prevent infection. In 2017, ARCW prevention staff distributed 443,340 condoms, which we use to promote the usage of PrEP.
Getting PrEP through the ARCW PrEP Clinic is simple. Patients start by taking a free and confidential HIV test at ARCW, as PrEP can only be used by those who are HIV negative. After test results are confirmed, the patient receives a health exam from an ARCW provider. The provider will then prescribe PrEP, available to be filled through the ARCW pharmacy or the patient’s pharmacy of choice.
The life-saving work ARCW provides would not be possible without ongoing community engagement and support. To learn more about services or how to support ARCW in the Madison area, please visit arcw.org .
*name changes have been made for privacy
Bill Keeton is the vice president and chief advocacy officer at AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin.