December 9, 2019

Cascade AIDS Project, as part of its annual Heroes of HIV fundraiser, honored Multnomah County’s HIV Health Services Center for its work “preventing HIV, caring for and empowering people living with the virus, and eliminating HIV-related stigma and health disparities.”

HIV Service Center staff, patients and County leadership celebrate the Heroes of HIV.

As part of Multnomah County’s clinical system, the HIV center serves 1,400 people and has provided HIV and primary care services since 1990. It is the only clinic in Oregon to receive federal funding through the Ryan White program. Clinic staff work in teams to provide clients with primary and HIV specialty care, nurse case management, behavioral health services, medical case management, patient navigation, on-site lab services, Medication Assisted Treatment, and art therapy. 

This year the clinic implemented a rapid start program for antiretroviral therapy — known as Rapid ART Start — that helps people newly diagnosed with HIV receive access to HIV medications within five days, and often the very same day. Clinic staff also train healthcare professionals and organizations on the latest and best practices for delivering comprehensive care for those living with or affected by HIV.

Clinic staff and leadership attended the event along with members of the clinic’s Community Advisory Committee and Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury, who accepted the honor on behalf of the County clinic.

Kafoury marveled at  how much has changed since the clinic opened 29 years ago.

“The early days of the HIV epidemic were truly terrible, and everyone in this room remembers that time. The fear. The misinformation. The stigma. The shame,” she said. “And during the really scary time — especially during that time — the Health Department stepped forward. Staff stepped up to test, to educate, to do outreach. Most of all, to care.”

The clinic still does the hard work of testing and diagnosing people with HIV. But it’s also added new work that reflect decades of sustained medical progress. Staff now prescribe PrEP, a drug that protects people from ever contracting the virus, while also prescribing new antiviral medications that allow those living with HIV to carry on healthy lives with viral loads so low they can’t pass on the virus. 

Today in Oregon, 75 percent of people with HIV are virally suppressed, while 25 percent of men who have sex with men are taking PrEP.

That means the HIV Health Services Center team has transitioned over three decades from primarily supporting people who would die from HIV, to supporting people who will age with HIV instead

“I am so honored to be here with all of you and especially to accept this on behalf of my personal heroes of HIV,” Kafoury said, “the incredibly dedicated, passionate staff working in Multnomah County’s HIV Health Services Center.”