Six Questions with Christie’s Place’s Executive Director Erin Falvey

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As a part of our mission to bring increased awareness of the amazing efforts of our local HIV/AIDS community and service organizations, Think Red Project (the non-profit organization behind Red Dress Party San Diego) will be publishing periodic blogs highlighting a beneficiary of the San Diego HIV Funding Collaborative (SDHDF). The SDHDF currently grants funds to 11 different HIV/AIDS service organizations in San Diego. #CelebrateImpact

The following is a Q&A with Erin C. Falvey, Ph.D., Executive Director at Christie’s Place:

Question: In one sentence, what does your organization represent?
Erin Falvey: Christie’s Place is a non-profit community based organization in San Diego empowering women, children, and families impacted by HIV to take control of their health and wellness by providing countywide supportive and behavioral health services.

Q: Why is it still important to care about HIV/AIDS today?
EF: Today, it is still important to care about HIV/AIDS because it continues to affect millions of individuals throughout the world. In the United States, people of color in particular are disproportionately impacted by the HIV epidemic. Despite widespread availability of life-saving and life-extending antiretroviral medications, only 30% of people living with HIV in the United States have achieved viral load suppression. In addition, stigma continues to be a barrier to HIV prevention methods, a barrier to HIV testing and counseling, and above all a barrier to care. This stigma results in discrimination in certain areas, some cultures, and various social networks. As such, it is of high importance to break down stigma by continuing nonjudgmental conversations around HIV transmission, care and treatment.

Q: What is one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned from your clientele?
EF: One of the most important lessons learned from clients is the power of resilience that lies within each individual. Empowering women living with HIV to self-advocate gives our staff members the privilege of experiencing our clients blossom and find their voice in empowering other women living with HIV. Every year, Christie’s Place holds the Dancing with Hope Women’s Retreat in Julian. At this yearly weekend getaway, women are given an opportunity to build their social support networks by empowering each other. Internalized stigma is confronted through workshops which establish commonality among all of the women at the retreat, allow for expressive art, and demonstrate their capacity to educate one another on their own areas of expertise.

Q: How does your organization use the money granted from the HIV Funding Collaborative?
EF: Christie’s Place used San Diego HIV Funding Collaborative funds to strengthen the established Christie’s Place coordinated services center system of care to effectively increase access to HIV care for women, children and families both infected and affected by HIV disease. To effectively engage and retain women in the HIV care system, Christie’s Place staff has identified both systemic and personal barriers to care that women living with HIV experience, and utilize gender responsive interventions to alleviate those barriers. With support from the San Diego HIV Funding Collaborative, Christie’s Place was able to implement an innovative approach within the coordinated services center to ensure access and consistent engagement in HIV medical care by focusing on both individual level solutions to barriers to care as well as systemic change to the overall system of care. These innovative approaches include monthly in-service staff trainings to increase staff knowledge and skills as well as monthly meetings of a Community Advisory Board to strengthen gender responsiveness, trauma-informed service provision and service integration for the entire HIV-care system. Overall efforts involve client engagement in care through a variety of services within the coordinated services center including outreach, drop-in support center, case management, childcare, family case work, peer navigation services, mental health services and basic needs services (food, transportation assistance, diapers, and hygiene products).

Q: What are the needs in the local HIV/AIDS community that you think have not been met or can be improved upon?
EF: Information on Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), and furthering access to PrEP, is an important and novel tool for our prevention toolkit. Though PrEP has been highly marketed among men who have sex with men, women have largely been left out of the conversation on PrEP access and resources. As an extension of previous work in this area, Christie’s Place is partnering with University of California, San Diego researchers on improving knowledge of, access to, and options for PrEP for women at high risk of acquiring HIV. The study includes analyzing the perceived barriers and facilitators to PrEP use in women by women living with HIV who will be asked to consider potential barriers to PrEP use had it been available to them prior to their infection; determining the influence of perceived HIV risk and past-year syndemic factors on willingness to use and adhere to PrEP among HIV-negative or status unknown women; assessing service provider’s knowledge of PrEP and women’s risk factors for HIV, and examine their influence on willingness to prescribe PrEP to syndemic-affected women or recommend they discuss PrEP with a physician.

Additionally, Christie’s Place has partnered with Iris House on a new project, PrEP4Life, to address barriers to PrEP in women. The goal of this project is to increase awareness of PrEP and provide education for high-risk heterosexual women, transgender women, young men who have sex with men, heterosexual serodiscordant couples, and service providers. Along with Iris House, Christie’s Place has collaborated with the National Women’s AIDS Collective to create a webinar series on PrEP with the goal of reaching 700-800 people over the course of one year. Christie’s Place leverages this involvement to expand the capacity and reach of our PrEP programming and as such, we continue to provide information on PrEP to clients and refer clients to primary care physicians for PrEP.

Q: What’s one thing you’d like to tell today’s youth or younger generation? Or what type of change would you like to see people make in the fight against HIV/AIDS?
EF: A vital component to change in the fight against HIV/AIDS is to acknowledge and respond to the impact trauma has on HIV acquisition and HIV-related treatment outcomes. Trauma and mental health conditions including PTSD exacerbate barriers to successful engagement in HIV healthcare. Trauma also affects an individual’s ability to form positive relationships with social service and healthcare providers. This results in poor health outcomes for people living with HIV. As such, the integration of trauma-informed approaches and interventions are essential to improving the health outcomes of people living with HIV.

For more information about Christie’s Place, please visit www.christiesplace.org.

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