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Acknowledging World AIDS Day Amid a Global Pandemic

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On World AIDS Day, December 1st, we recognize the achievements and efforts made to combat HIV/AIDS around the globe. Thanks to advances in care and treatment, HIV-positive people are living increasingly longer lives.

With 5,755 residents living with HIV/AIDS, Long Island has one of the highest numbers of AIDS cases of any suburban area and more cases than many states across the nation.

Options for Community Living, Inc., based in Ronkonkoma, has been serving people living with HIV/AIDS since 1994. Through care coordination, housing assistance and Ryan White funded programs, Options has impacted the lives of thousands of Long Islanders living with HIV/AIDS.

“For our clients with compromised immune systems, COVID-19 is especially concerning,” said Allison Covino, Options’ Program Director. “Their health and safety are paramount. When we cannot meet in person or outdoors, we maintain regular phone contact. We help arrange telehealth visits with providers, delivery of food, cleaning supplies and PPE – anything we can do to help. It has been difficult for everyone.”

“We’ve made incredible progress combating HIV,” continued Covino. “Today most clients we serve that adhere to their treatment regimens are virally suppressed or undetectable. Stable housing, medication, education, and connection to care has made all the difference.”

Last year, Options helped more than 300 Long Islanders living with HIV/AIDS meet their housing and service needs. One recipient of that assistance is Lisa. Despite all the challenges she has faced, she remains grateful and optimistic.

Lisa was born with Von Willebrand disease factor 8 deficiency which is a bleeding disorder caused by low levels of clotting protein in the blood.  She has received treatment at the hemophiliac clinic at Long Island Jewish hospital her whole life. In 1988 after giving birth to her second child, a son, she did not feel well and learned that she was HIV+. Thankfully, she did not pass the virus to her son or daughter. She and her husband separated when her son was one year old. She was very sick for years. In addition to HIV, she contracted Hepatitis C through a blood transfusion.  The family relied on benefits from social security for income and Medicaid and ADAP for health benefits. Through the years, Lisa came to rely on family when she was too ill to care for herself or her children and unable to afford rent.  At one point, when her children were grown, she was ill with PCP pneumonia. With no home of her own, she stayed with her sister and later her son. She began receiving case management services through Options Ryan White program. Her name was added to Options waiting list for housing. In January 2014, she moved into her new home. “When I first walked into my apartment, I was blown away! It was fully furnished – complete with pots and pans. It took a while to realize, I am not losing this. I don’t have to be afraid. This is home.” 

Lisa grew healthier and stronger and was encouraged by her Options case manager to apply to college. At Suffolk Community College she discovered a love of learning. She finished her Associates degree in May 2019.  When approached to work as a peer mentor, she hesitated for fear she might become ill but decided to try. She now works part-time and completed the peer certification program. Lisa lives as an example of hope for her clients. She is also on the Client Advisory Board of Infectious Diseases at Northwell and reports that her HIV is “undetectable.”  Earlier this year, she welcomed her first grandchild, an event she did not think she would live to witness. She loves her home and is grateful to have stability, support, and hope for the future.

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