A dinner out, a beer after work or a cup of coffee with friends at participating restaurants later this month can help fund HIV services for Southwest Michigan, free testing events in the month of April, and a new clinic in Kalamazoo to provide medical care for people living with human immunodeficiency virus — HIV.
Forty restaurants in the greater Kalamazoo area are participating in this year’s Dining Out For Life on April 25, the biggest annual fundraiser for CARES — Community AIDS Resource and Education Services.
CARES was founded in 1985 and supports 10 counties in Southwest Michigan, its mission to maximize the quality of life for people living with HIV and to minimize the impact of the virus that can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS, if not treated.
Now in its 11th year in Kalamazoo, the Dining Out For Life
event is part of a national fundraising effort in more than 50 cities in North America. Local restaurants donate at least 25 percent of their profit for one day, and all the funds benefit CARES.
Participating restaurants allow volunteers into their restaurants to thank diners for their support and to ask for additional donations.
Jan Rose of Four Roses Cafe in Plainwell, says the establishment has participated in the Dining Out For Life event since 2014. “We feel it is important to support our local community-based organizations and specifically this event to bring awareness and help to those who are impacted by AIDS,” Rose says. “We have a great partnership with CARES and plan to continue to support them whenever we are able.”
This year’s Kalamazoo-area event will reach an estimated 8,000 diners, says Kelly Doyle, executive director of CARES. “Last year we raised $66,000,” Doyle says, “and our goal is to raise $68,000 this year.”
Those funds are needed for ambitious projects in the works at CARES, Doyle says.
In Southwest Michigan,1,040 people are living with HIV. Statewide, there are 16,218 HIV patients.
A new Positive Living Clinic at the CARES location in Kalamazoo, 629 Pioneer Street, will open in early summer to add to existing services such as providing medical case management for people living with HIV and prevention for those who test negative for the illness. The new clinic will partner with Western Michigan University Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine
to provide HIV medical care and primary care for HIV patients as well as STD testing and treatment and hormones for transgender individuals, Doyle says.
Participating Kalamazoo area establishments will donate a portion of their April 25 proceeds to CARES
600 Kitchen & Bar, Brite Eyes Brewing, Central City TapHouse, Centre Street TapHouse, Chau Hays Schnitzel Station, Chocolatea, Civil House Coffee, Comenoli’s Italian Bistro & Bar, Confections With Convictions, Cosmos Cucina, cove Lakeside Bistro, Erbelli’s,Portage Road, Erbelli's Stadium Drive, Feed the World Cafe, Fieldstone Grill, Four Roses Cafe, Full City Cafe, Fuze Kitchen and Bar, J. Gumbo’s, Jac’s Cekola’s Pizza-Oshtemo, Kalamazoo Beer Exchange, LaCantina, Latitude 42 Brewing Company Oshtemo, Latitude 42 Brewing Company Portage, Mangia Kitchen and Bar, Martell’s, Nina’s Cafe, Theo & Stacy’s Westnedge, Oakwood Bistro, Old Burdick’s Downtown, Old Burdick’s Wings West, Sakura 2, Sprinkle Road Tap Hope, Territorial Brewing Company, The Union Cabaret & Grille, The Victorian Bakery, Webster’s Prime, The Wine Loft, Zazios
When a person tests positive for HIV, he or she is referred to CARES by the county health department, medical providers or the person that tested them. The nonprofit then works with the patients to get them access to insurance, specialty infectious disease medical services, lab work and access to medication.
“We work to troubleshoot adherence to medication issues with them and also we reduce the other barriers in their lives so they can focus on their health.
“We work with the whole person,” Doyle says, “including making sure they have access to mental health treatment or substance abuse treatment.”
CARES can also help with housing dollars and funds to assist with emergency utility payments.
In addition to helping patients with HIV, CARES works to keep people from acquiring the virus in the first place.
“On the prevention side we provide rapid testing for HIV so a person can know their HIV status within 20 minutes,” Doyle says. “We hold support groups and social groups that focus on education about HIV and risk reduction techniques.”
Attacking the stigma
Today, proper medication can suppress the HIV virus to undetectable, untransmittable levels.
In addition, a prescription medication is capable of protecting those at high risk for contracting HIV.
But assuring everyone has sustained access to prevention or treatment isn’t easy.
Although HIV can infect anyone, there are obstacles to treating HIV that can be as hard to treat as the virus itself.
“It is difficult for us to get rid of the disease in Southwest Michigan because of the stigma, homophobia, and racism,” Doyle says. “These co-factors contribute to the continued transmission of HIV and we need to continue to fight these co-factors in order to reduce the transmission of HIV and create a more equitable health care system.”
Doyle says community actions such as the city of St. Joseph’s nondiscrimination ordinance for the LGBT community can help. This type of legislation at city and state levels “helps change hearts and minds. It is the first step,” Doyle says.
A damaged healthcare system
The eroding of the country’s healthcare system and the continued high cost of treatment also limits eradication efforts.
“Expanding Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act was a great first step to reducing transmissions and we saw that when those laws were first enacted,” Doyle says. “But our current federal and state legislatures continue to pass laws that weaken these systems and create a higher cost burden on patients.
Michigan legislation to begin in 2020 that adds work requirements for Medicaid patients will put many patients in jeopardy of losing continued treatment that is necessary to save their lives reduce the transmission of the disease, Doyle says.
Doyle explains that when people living with HIV are managing their disease by taking their medication every day, their HIV viral load is suppressed — not only keeping them healthy, but limiting their risk of transmitting the disease to anyone else.
“Many of our clients have unstable or inadequate employment,” Doyle says, “and we will see clients falling out of care due to lack of access to their Medicaid. This is taking us backwards.”
Still, there has been progress. Doyle says a recent change in the HIV Disclosure Law for people living with HIV has corrected a problem presented by earlier, harsher laws.
Previously, a person living with HIV could face a felony of up to four years in prison for not disclosing their HIV status prior to any type of sexual penetration. The degree of risk of HIV transmission was not a factor in the statute, even in circumstances where there was no HIV transmission, nor even any risk of HIV transmission.
Although the strict disclosure requirement seemed like a good idea, studies showed that these laws actually discouraged people from testing or treating — “because if someone knows their status, then they had to disclose,” Doyle says. “The phrase ‘take the test, risk arrest’ became a common in the community.”
Michigan lawmakers recently modernized the law to remove the threat of prosecution of those living with HIV who are on treatment and pose no risk of transmitting HIV. It also narrows the scope of sexual activities subject to prosecution.
These and other positive changes to the details of the law “move us in the right direction,” Doyle says.
With continued work to prevent exposure to the virus and to assure access to treatment for those who need it, we can end HIV in our lifetime,” Doyle says.