When Louise was diagnosed with HIV there was so much she didn’t know but was afraid to ask.
She didn’t know what services were available to her. She had questions about medications and treatment but was too intimidated to talk to her doctor. She needed someone to dispel the myths and “connect all the dots” when it comes to living with HIV. Most important, Louise could have used someone to provide reassurance – someone who really knew.
Five years later, she is now that person for others.
At St. Joseph’s Hospital in London, the Infectious Diseases Care Program (IDCP) recently implemented an important new role – peer mentor – to provide support to individuals newly diagnosed with HIV.
The idea was raised at an IDCP Community Advisory Committee, a group made up of IDCP team members, patients and community partners, explains IDCP social worker Susan Clifford.
“There are many challenges that individuals newly diagnosed with HIV have in accessing and engaging in care,” says Susan. “It’s even more challenging for individuals who experience homelessness, poverty, addictions and mental health problems. Patients on our advisory committee have shared their experiences when they first entered care and identified how helpful it would have been if there had been someone with a shared experience they could have talked to. One of our patients offered to be that person and it grew from there.”
Louise, who has been trained as a volunteer at St. Joseph’s, is no stranger to mentoring. For the past two years the 33-year-old mother of two has been a peer interviewer with a national study that seeks to understand if women-centred care can improve health outcomes for women living with HIV in Canada. Participants in the study are interviewed by “peer research associates” who are women living with HIV and integral members of the research team.
Louise will continue with the research study as well as fill the IDCP peer mentor role. “I know how much it is needed and I knew it was something I could do.”
St. Joseph’s peer mentor program is open to anyone in the London area living with or at risk of HIV infection. Individuals can call the IDCP social worker and leave a telephone number. The call is confidential. Individuals can choose to leave their name or not. The peer mentor will be in touch as quickly as possible.
While Louise is the first person to fill the peer mentor role, Susan hopes to see the program expand with additional volunteers.
“We are very excited to offer this support,” says Susan, “and are thrilled to have someone so inspirational fill the role.”
HIV Peer Support Is Here For You
Learning to live with HIV can be challenging, even overwhelming. You may have questions about the virus, treatment, medication and where to get help. At St. Joseph’s Hospital, a peer mentor provides a safe place to ask questions, can help you understand HIV, and will assist you in getting the care you need. The peer mentor knows what it’s like to live with HIV because they are living with it too.
If you would like to talk with a peer mentor, please contact the Infectious Disease Care Program social worker at 519 646-6100 ext. 61721 and leave a telephone number where you can be reached. Your call is confidential. You can choose to leave your name or not. A peer mentor will be in touch with you as quickly as possible.
Infectious Diseases Care Program
St. Joseph’s Health Care London has been treating people with HIV/AIDS since the disease appeared in the mid-1980s. The Infectious Diseases Care Program meets the outpatient needs of HIV-infected and affected populations across the region, providing medical/psychiatric, nursing, social work, pharmacy, and nutrition services. The focus is on both medical as well as psycho-social aspects of HIV/AIDS. In total, about 500 patients are currently being treated at St. for HIV/AIDS, from infants to patients in their 80s. The program also provides care for patients with a broad range of other acute and chronic infectious diseases.