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Reaching Out!
Reaching Out to the Hispanic Community

By Sheryl Johnson

March/April 2004

Sheryl Johnson

One of the collaborative agencies with which AIDS Survival Project works closely is Positive Impact, Inc. Under the direction of Mr. Paul Plate, Executive Director, this organization has recently celebrated 10 years of offering services to the community. Founded in 1993 by a group of committed community leaders who believed that the impact of HIV on the mental health status of individuals warranted special attention, the volunteers and staff of Positive Impact have worked to respond to that need -- to help people living with HIV deal with the mental health counseling challenges that they face every day. The agency has served several thousand individual clients through mental health counseling programs, as well as thousands more through group therapy and professional training efforts. As we continue to support each other's programmatic endeavors, several staff members from ASP have accepted an invitation to join the Positive Impact's Community Advisory Board. As members of this newly formed entity, it will be our job to identify barriers to clients who want to enter treatment, as well as distinguishing those factors that will help clients complete their therapeutic programs.

Positive Impact accomplishes its work through the energy and dedication of a team of mental health providers who volunteer their time to provide mental health care to clients at no cost. Following an intensive intake and mental health assessment, clients are matched with a mental health provider with expertise in addressing the client's particular mental health issue. Currently, Positive Impact's programs include Individual Mental Health Counseling, Couples and Family Counseling. In addition, the agency has a comprehensive training program for mental health professionals working with HIV-affected populations, including:

Positive Impact also sponsors specialized programs, including an intensive five-week psychoeducational group work program focusing on prevention and HIV-affected individuals and a Homeless Population Outreach, addressing the needs of those who have HIV and are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

Recently, I sat down with Allison Franks, Coordinator of Hispanic Mental Health Services, to talk about outreach activities geared specifically to the mental health needs of Spanish-speaking people living with HIV. I learned that under Ryan White funding, a PI staff member sees clients in-house and at Grady IDP, St. Joseph's Mercy Care and the Cobb County Health Department (twice per month). Their outreach activities are specifically related to health fairs and to Hispanics with HIV/AIDS because they are focused on developing relationships with other health departments. Of the Ryan White clients served last year, 24% were Hispanic. Safer sex information and HIV/AIDS awareness is incorporated into the counseling sessions. Specific presentations include a four-week module at the Clinic for the Education, Treatment and Prevention of Substance Abuse and through catholic Social Services. St. Joseph's has also recently added a delivery site for African-American and Hispanic clients. Psychiatric referrals are also made.

I asked what types of barriers are encountered in getting Hispanic clients into counseling. Allison spoke of cultural barriers, the lack of education and the continuing stigma attached to being diagnosed with HIV. Lack of education also plays into having a lack of knowledge that services exist. Remedies to this situation would include offering testing on a more widespread basis and in nontraditional settings. Because of the amount of time between getting tested and getting results, people often get lost in the referral process. I wondered if the impact of the "Down Low" behavioral phenomenon that has caused controversy in the African-American community is showing up in Hispanic communities, and was told there is a comparable component. Women in Hispanic communities are not comfortable with condom negotiation, therefore they are engaging in increased rates of unprotected sex. Due to a well-ingrained atmosphere of "machismo" (male dominance), Hispanic women are less inclined to question their partner's sexual behavior or practices. To counteract against these and other types of trends resulting in higher infection rates, Positive Impact also offers a "Hispanic Lunch & Learn" series. These bimonthly presentations are offered specifically for those professionals who are working with Hispanics affected by HIV.

For additional information concerning Positive Impact, please contact them at (404) 589-9040. They are located at 139 Ralph McGill Boulevard, Suite 301; Atlanta GA 30308 and their Web site is www.positiveimpact-atl.org.

Reminder: The 5th annual African-American Outreach Initiative is rapidly approaching. The event will be held Saturday and Sunday, March 13-14 at the Atlanta Renaissance Hotel. There is free admission, free shuttle service and lots of good information about insurance, housing, treatment, legal issues and other important topics. For registration, please call Michael Banner at (404) 296-3090, or e-mail mbctr@bellsouth.net.




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