Outreach workers from MAC Health don’t wait for potential clients to come to them. They go to their turf, which could be a bar, soup kitchen or substance abuse center.
“We need to meet the clients where they are,” said Royale Theus, Director of Programs.
MAC Health, formerly known as the Michigan AIDS Coalition, provides HIV outreach, counseling and testing services in metro Detroit. The non-profit was recently incorporated into Matrix Human Services.
The low-key approach to providing services breaks down barriers, Theus said. Clients become familiar and comfortable with outreach workers, which builds trust. The workers are such a presence that they noticed a trend among the people they were serving. As they were being tested for HIV, many expressed a desire to also be tested for other sexually-transmitted or needle-borne diseases.
Until recently, staffers were forced to send them elsewhere for additional testing. Theus said they could follow up with those they saw on a regular basis to make sure they went through with testing for syphilis, gonorrhea, or Hepatitis C, but could never be sure everyone received that critical follow-up care.
A $50,000 grant from the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation, as well as support from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the Gerstacker Foundation, means outreach staff can now run a battery of tests all at once, depending on a client’s needs.
Since the expanded testing program started this past summer, Theus said 138 individuals have taken advantage, including 83 who’ve been tested for syphilis. In addition to offering more testing options, the grant funding allowed the program’s target audience to expand as well. Previously, men ages 13-19 who have sex with other men were the intended testing recipients. Now, at-risk heterosexual men and women, as well as bi-sexual and lesbian women can receive testing.
When a test comes back positive, workers refer clients to additional care resources. Working relationships with local doctors help cut down the wait time to be seen and staff care coordinators guide patients through the process to overcome any access barriers.
Theus said the population MAC Health works with is often underserved. Most do not access regular medical care and generally utilize emergency rooms for their health needs. The combination of testing people where they are and then walking them through any necessary follow-up care means a healthier population, less likely to spread these diseases further, he explained.
The Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation supports research and programs to improve the health of Michigan residents. No grant money comes from the premium payments of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan members. To learn more about BCBSM Foundation grant programs, visit bcbsm.com/foundation.
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Photo credit: Cher VernalEQ