Currently, Rudy is the supervisor of social work for both the Jacobi Medical Center and North Central Bronx Hospital's outpatient HIV/AIDS social work departments. He leads a dynamic team of social workers and case managers who service people living with HIV. Rudy supports his staff in assisting clients with psychosocial assessments and crisis intervention as it relates to case management issues. He is also responsible for many other tasks that are critical to the day-to-day functioning of the respective agencies. He takes pride in being a part of the team that has given Jacobi Medical Center its reputation in the Bronx as "the best place to go for treatment if you are HIV positive."
As a supervisor of professionals who work directly with people living with a virus as complex as HIV, Rudy stresses the importance of leaving stereotypes and labels outside when working in the capacity of a social worker or case manager. In his opinion, case management is most effective when clients are viewed as individuals and their individual needs are addressed as such. He firmly believes that the social worker and client must work together towards joint goals and outcomes. He lists such characteristics as being a good listener; possessing courage, persistence and a "can-do" attitude, having strong ethics and a good sense of humor as qualities that HIV leaders should adapt and implement in their work.
An extremely passionate and dedicated worker, Rudy admits that at times he has a tendency to take on too much. He knows that "burn out" is an inevitable part of human nature. He understands the importance of taking time out for himself in order to maintain a fresh outlook on his work.
In his spare time, Rudy enjoys spending time with his family and friends, traveling, going to the theatre and sleeping! He and his partner Kevin live together in Manhattan and will celebrate their twentieth anniversary together in December 2005.
How long have you been working with people living with HIV?
I have been working with people living with HIV since 1994.
Can you describe how your work has changed since you first started?
I would have to say that one of the biggest changes has come in the form of medication. We have antiretrovirals, which we did not have back when I first got involved. People are living longer and there are a lot fewer deaths now, although we still have some deaths.
If I were to follow you over the week, what would I see you do at work?
My primary job with patients is split between providing individual support and case management. So, you would see me getting patients to explore their thoughts and feelings about living with HIV and all of the issues that come along with that, such as disclosure or co-infection. I have a great number of patients who are co-infected with hepatitis C ... so that adds to the emotional complexity of it. I do psychosocial assessments and crisis intervention (the majority of our patients have some sort of crisis). As far as case management issues such as housing or medical insurance, I assist them with getting their entitlements ... their benefits.
Housing is a huge problem here in the state of New York. I have two senior social workers who report to me, plus one other social worker, as well as five or six case managers. So, I provide clinical and administrative supervision to them. I am also a field instructor with Lehman College in the Bronx. I have an intern who does her field training with me and who will be graduating in nine months. In a nutshell, that is pretty much what you would see me doing.
What's the best thing about your job?
The best thing about my job is the patients. Seeing the patients make progress, whether it's getting them to comply with medications or seeing their CD4 counts increase or their viral load decrease. Just seeing them get better. Seeing them get their [General Educational Development Test] and then go on to bigger and better things. It's about the patient.
What's the worst thing about your job?
The worst thing about my job is the frustration that comes along with the lack of funding for prevention education programs. Getting the word out there is tough. We can all do more when it comes to prevention education.
What have been your greatest successes in your work?
My greatest success in my work is keeping patients in treatment and helping to make the clinic where I work known in the community as a great place for treatment. The word on the street is that if you are HIV positive, and you're in the Bronx, you go to Jacobi Medical Center. I have been a part of the team here that has built that reputation.
I need to delegate more. Sometimes, I take on too much, though that may be more about where I need to grow and develop and not necessarily a failure.
What is the biggest challenge you face as a case manager/social worker? Would other people in your profession give a similar answer?
Again, funding is a big issue! If we had more money, it would be less of a challenge to meet the needs of our clients. Funding is key. If we had the money to pay for a housing specialist or a legal specialist at the agency, we could be even more effective. We need more money for more advocacy lines. I think that other people in the profession would give a similar answer. Finances would definitely be high up on the list.
For the most part, what do you think is the biggest risk factor for HIV?
Unprotected sex is on the rise, again.
What is the most important/memorable/useful thing you have learned from the people you work with?
Everybody has strengths. I find out what a person's strong points are and use that to make the best of any situation.
How do you maintain a positive outlook and avoid burning out?
Who said I haven't burned out?! It's like a car that runs out of gas -- you have to put gas in it in order for it to run. So, I reach out to family and friends, work out at the gym two to three times a week, travel, as well as go to the theatre and to the movies. My positive outlook is this: since there is not a cure for AIDS yet, this is my contribution until there is one.
If you weren't doing what you are doing now what would you be? Why?
At this point in my life, I don't know what else I would be doing. Maybe, acting.
What do you think are the biggest problems people living with HIV face today?
Some people still don't have food on their tables or roofs over their heads. When you get down to the basics, those are the issues. On top of that, medication compliance is also a big issue.
Do you see a lot of women now? What kind of services do they often need that is different than the services men need?
We are actually in the middle of a pilot project funded by the New York State Department of Public Health HIV/AIDS Institute for a family centered care program. There are about sixty mothers and their children in the program, and it is designed to address their issues. We also have our fair share of HIV-positive mothers coming in our doors; some are documented and some are not as far as immigration is concerned. We assist them with getting Medicaid, housing, food and in general having their basic needs met.
Do you work with any particular population of people?
We see everybody here. I don't think we have a particular population. We see men, women and children regardless of race or sexual orientation. We don't discriminate.
Who would you dedicate this award to if you could?
I would dedicate this award to two dear friends who passed away from AIDS: John and Fred.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Astoria, NY, but raised in South Jersey.
What did you want to be when you were a kid?
I wanted to be many things. I wanted to be an oceanographer and a veternarian.
What kind of work did your parents do?
My father was an air traffic controller, and my mother was a model. When she decided that she didn't want to do that anymore, she went into the insurance business.
What was your major in college? When did you decide you wanted to be a social worker?
My major in college was hotel/food and travel services. I have my B.S. from Florida International University in Miami. I decided I wanted to become a social worker in 1991 or 1992 when my friend John was on his death bed and I went to Seattle to visit him and his family. Working with his social workers and nurses, I decided that I wanted to get into this kind of work.
What other jobs have you had?
I was a catering sales manager for a large hotel in New York City. I have also been a travel agent and a real estate broker.
Tell us more about how you decided to do this kind of work?
After my experience with my friend John and his caretakers, I decided that I owed it to myself to see if I could do this, to see if I had what it took. I volunteered at Jacob Perlow hospice for a while and then was accepted into social work school at NYU.
Who were the most influential people in your life, both professionally and personally? Please explain why you have given this answer.
I have two really close, dear friends, Krishna and Christine. They are longtime friends, but I also work with them professionally. I am influenced and motivated by their energy, judgment and insight.
What do you do in your spare time?
Do you have a partner? (What is your partner's job?) Kids? Pets?
My partner's name is Kevin. He is an attorney. He is also a big influence in my life. We celebrate our 20th anniversary together this coming December. We are godparents to my friend Krishna's daughter, Parade (10), and we are going to be the godparents to Christine and Bill's baby boy Lance (3 months). I guess we are good godfather material!
We have two female sable Dachshunds named Sandy and Samantha. They are 9/11 dogs. We live downtown, a block and a half away from where the World Trade Center stood. The women who owned our dogs had a nervous breakdown after the tragedy, and they were sent to a Dachshunds adoption agency. We were looking for dogs at the time. We got a call that two had become available, so we went to spend some time with them and adopted them.
Where do you live? What kind of community is it? What do you like/dislike about it?
I live in downtown Manhattan. It is a very diverse community with people from all walks of life. I like the fact that you can do just about anything here. You can walk out your door and go see a Broadway show, which you can't do in every city. I dislike that fact that it is so expensive.
If you had any place to live besides where you live now, where would you live?
I would have to say Europe.
What's the best vacation you ever had?
My best vacation was going to Europe, specifically to Berlin.
What's the biggest adventure you ever had?
Skiing a double black diamond ski slope in Breckenridge, Colorado!
What's currently on your bedside table for reading?
Nothing, I don't have a bedside table.
What kind of music do you like to listen to? Who are the artists you listen to the most?
I am pretty much an old disco duck! I like the old disco classics -- Sylvester, Two Tons of Fun, Chaka Khan, etc. -- not the pots and pans music that they play today.