“it would be cool if there was some kind of a buddy support system where other [people living with HIV] could call, you know, just to check on it ‘How is it going?’, because that could mean a world of difference to someone”
Since 1988, Casey House has been providing compassionate, inspired healthcare for people living with HIV in Toronto. As a specialty HIV/AIDS hospital, Casey House offers in-patient care and a range of community programs.
Research and consultations with clients at Casey House have identified structural barriers (examples: stigma and discrimination, socioeconomic status, housing stability, etc.) that impede people from integrating back into their communities. Such barriers are further complicated by substance use and can lead to disrupted adherence of antiretroviral therapy (ART). Despite the diverse resources available in Toronto and formal partnerships and referrals, Casey House has identified a need for more support in the transition from hospital to community.
When Casey House clients, including those recently discharged from hospital, were asked what additional support would be helpful, the overwhelming response was: support from a peer (i.e. someone who is living with HIV and has lived experience with substance use) via regular telephone calls would be of great help. As one person said, “it would be cool if there was some kind of a buddy support system where other [people living with HIV] could call, you know, just to check on it ‘How is it going?’, because that could mean a world of difference to someone. If they’re not having a good day and you get that phone call, ‘How are you doing?’”
Hearing this request, Casey House approached ACT (the AIDS Committee of Toronto). Since 1983, ACT has provided support services that empower men, women and young people living with HIV to achieve self-determination, informed decision-making, independence, and overall well-being. One such support service is the Buddy Program, which matches a trained volunteer with a person living with HIV for friendly emotional support regarding the emotional, practical, and health-related issues that arise as a result of living with HIV. Although ACT’s Buddy Program is not a peer program, many of the program’s volunteers fit the criteria of peer as Casey House’s clients have defined it.
Staff from Casey House and ACT are working with a dedicated team of nine peer volunteers, alongside other community partners, to develop a new peer telephone support program that meets the needs of people who use substances and who have initiated or restarted ART while in-patient at Casey House. “I feel that if this type of support were available for some of the people whom I knew were at this point in their lives, they would be alive and living a better life today” says Adam, one of the volunteers. Funding is integral to this program’s success, as it’s of crucial importance to provide paid compensation to peer volunteers for their contributions throughout this project.
Casey House and ACT have applied for pilot program funding through the Flipped Workshop competition offered by Universities Without Walls (UWW), the Canadian Association for HIV Research (CAHR), and the Ontario HIV Treatment Network (OHTN).
Our pilot project – named The ART of Conversation – will be discussed alongside the other innovative projects in competition during an OHTN webcast on Wednesday June 1, from 2pm EST to 4pm EST.
You are welcome to register for this webcast, hear about the ART of conversation and the other projects in competition, and vote for your favourite project. You can register for the webcast here: http://www.instantpresenter.com/PIID=EE50D780884B.