January 12, 2021 by Carol Higgins
Homestead Hospital Pioneering HIV Awareness
As part of National Youth HIV & AIDS Awareness Day, health officials are saluting a unique screening program at Homestead Hospital that is helping to identify new cases and reduce the spread of infection.
(VIDEO: The Baptist Health South Florida News Team hears from Homestead Hospital medical experts and public health officials about efforts to reduce the impact of HIV on young people. Video by Dylan Kyle)
Last year, Homestead Hospital implemented routine screening for HIV and hepatitis C (HCV) for all patients treated in the emergency department who require blood work, unless they decline. Out of the more than 5,000 patients who have been screened to-date, 72 HIV positive and more than 200 HCV positive individuals have been identified. Through a partnership with the Florida Department of Health, these patients are immediately linked to care and treatment.
“It was important for us to do this because of the high volume of patients we treat in the emergency room and a high incidence of HIV in this community,” said Bill Duquette, chief executive officer of Homestead Hospital.
The HIV epidemic in the United States continues to be a major public health crisis. An estimated 1.2 million Americans are living with HIV and one out of five don’t know they have it, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In addition, more than one in five new HIV cases diagnosed in the U.S. are in young people ages 13-24 years, says the CDC. Miami-Dade County has the highest rates of new HIV cases in the state, reports the Florida Department of Health.
“As the first hospital in the state to implement these routine HIV and HCV screenings, Homestead Hospital is a trailblazer in Florida,” said Lillian Rivera, R.N., Ph.D., administrator of the Florida Department of Health in Miami-Dade County. “Homestead Hospital’s leadership is helping to change the landscape of this public health epidemic by reaching these patients through routine screenings.”
“Early diagnosis and starting treatment right away is very important in reducing mortality and transmission of this disease,” Jorge Mejia, M.D., chief of infectious disease at Homestead Hospital. “With anti-viral therapy, these patients can live a normal life. This includes identifying pregnant women who are infected in order to prevent babies from being born with the disease.”
Denishia Dozier, R.N., a nurse in Homestead Hospital’s Emergency Department who helps screen patients, says the majority of patients appreciate that the hospital is doing this for the community because they can be linked to care and get diagnosed early.
Giselle Gallo, a linkage-to-care specialist with Catalyst Miami, said the hospital’s screening program has allowed community health providers to elevate the standard of care for these patients by linking them to care early in their diagnosis. She reported that 100 percent of new HIV-positive patients identified through Homestead Hospital’s screenings are receiving treatment.
Using the latest technology, including fourth-generation equipment, allows the laboratory to analyze specimens faster and more accurately, according to Heather Melbourne, director of laboratory services at Homestead Hospital.
The Baptist Health South Florida News Team was there to learn about this pioneering program. Watch the video now.