World AIDS Day 2021: Remembering Those We Have Lost, Honoring Survivors and Working to Close the HIV Health Equity Gap with Donna Thompson
Donna Thompson, CEO
December 1, 2021
Two weeks ago, an ACCESS Rogers Park Family Health Center patient told the staff that he wanted to speak to the CEO because what he had to say could not be simply stated in an email or letter.
When we spoke, he began the conversation by letting me know that the health center had saved his life. He described being diagnosed with HIV in the 1990’s. He began coming to ACCESS Rogers Park in 1998. This was during the health center’s early days as we had opened the site in 1997 as a beacon on the North Side for infectious disease care. In fact, it was there that we hired our first Behavioral Health Consultant and a dedicated Infectious Disease provider focused on HIV/ AIDS patients integrated within our primary care delivery model.
To this day, this patient calls ACCESS Rogers Park his medical home and candidly expressed his gratitude for the entire care team. He easily named all the staff from front desk receptionist and benefits specialist to his clinical care team, behavioral health consultant and our chaplain. During our conversation, he reflected about the long journey he’s been on and his astonishment with being alive when so many of his friends passed away as a result of the AIDS epidemic.
As he continued to talk about his journey, I too reflected on being a young staff nurse in the early days of the AIDS epidemic. The fear, isolation, and mistrust we experienced as a society back then is not much different from what we are experiencing today with the COVID-19 pandemic. The AIDS epidemic left the LGBTQIA community stigmatized for many years because of misguided facts that overshadowed and consumed the public, resulting in shameful stereotypes and discrimination.
As communities of color now have the highest rate of HIV/AIDS and have been hit hardest by COVID-19, it’s imperative that we lift our voices to raise awareness, educate our communities and bring an end to both.
As we raise awareness this World AIDS Day, let’s continue to link arms to ensure our communities are educated on the facts and have equitable access to HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment. Let’s stop the stigma today.