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North Texas Non-Profits Care for Evacuees with HIV

By Catherine Cuellar, KERA 90.1 Reporter

North Texas Non-Profits Care for Evacuees with HIV

Dallas, TX – Catherine Cuellar, 90.1 Reporter: For evacuees with HIV and AIDS, the hurricanes caused two kinds of panic. In addition to losing medical records and benefits, patients feared a loss of privacy. They didn't want their illness exposed, nor did they want to be exposed to new illness in shelters. Raylene Nobles is executive director of AIDS Arms Incorporated in Dallas, which has been caring for dozens of evacuees over the past two months.

Raylene Nobles, AIDS Arms Inc.: Can you imagine being in a shelter system when you're surrounded by thousands of people, you have never disclosed your HIV status even to your family, they are not going to disclose it to a stranger. Lots of folks take lots of pills and if you drag out four or five pill bottles, sometimes eight pill bottles at a time, people get suspicious.

Cuellar: The Dallas County department of health and human services tried to meet people's needs as discreetly as possible, according to Karen Petties.

Karen Petties, Assistant Director of Ryan White Grants Compliance for Dallas County: Some of our case management agencies did get calls from clients at Reunion Center who said I don't want anyone knowing I'm positive. I don't want people even at the pharmacy to be aware. So we had it set up where some of our providers could actually met people outside, some little symbol that would let folks know that they could be connected to care.

Cuellar: Lionel Hilliard chairs New Orleans' AIDS Planning Council. He now lives in Dallas and stays in e-mail and cell phone contact with his New Orleans co-workers, who are spread throughout the U.S. They use word-of-mouth community networking to let people know about AIDS resources. But Hilliard says that for many people like him who have HIV, evacuation made staying healthy impossible.

Lionel Hilliard, the Chair of the New Orleans Ryan White Planning Council: When this happens to you, you lose everything. You don't think about your health. The first thing you think about is getting somewhere, getting comfortable. Your health will be after I'm mentally stable, after I'm secure and OK.

Cuellar: The stress of the evacuation coupled with a break in care will make many people with HIV and AIDS even more vulnerable to complications, according to Nobles.

Nobles: If people miss as low as one or two doses of medications, that virus can then become very resistant very quickly to those medications. And once you become resistant, the medications no longer work.

Cuellar: Nationwide, fewer than 500 HIV and AIDS patients from New Orleans have come forward to get care, although more than 7000 people in New Orleans had the virus. Hilliard expects no more than a third of his New Orleans clients with HIV and AIDS to disclose their status. Even if they do, Nobles says it will be tough to find resources to care for them.

Nobles: Our service system and healthcare system was already stretched to the limit. The cost for HIV medical care case management and medications for a month for a typical client here can run anywhere from $1000 to $3500 a month depending on their medication needs and how many of those medications we have to purchase for them.

Cuellar: Through January 2006, evacuees with HIV and AIDS now living in Texas can use their Louisiana Medicaid for up to eight prescriptions. Texas Medicaid only covers three drugs. Meanwhile, people who don't disclose they have HIV or AIDS will most likely be treated for symptoms of their virus, whether in clinics, doctor's offices, or emergency rooms. That cost, and who will pay it, remains to be seen. For KERA 90.1, I'm Catherine Cuellar.

Email Catherine Cuellar about this story.