Boston University School of Social Work to Evaluate Springfield HIV/AIDS Treatment Program

in BU In the Community, Health & Medicine, News Releases, School of Social Work
November 7th, 2002

Contact: Richard Taffe, 617-353-4626 | rtaffe@bu.edu

(Boston, Mass.) – A team of Boston University School of Social Work professors will monitor for five years an HIV/AIDS treatment program in Springfield, Mass., that focuses on its Hispanic community, the most at-risk group in one of the nation’s hardest hit cities for contracting the disease. The program is funded by a $2.5 million grant from the Department of Health and Human Services to Tapestry Health Systems, since 1973 a not-for-profit provider of an array of human services in Western Massachusetts.

Using academic analysis as a weapon in the war on HIV/AIDS, the study will see if providing culturally sensitive, intensive case-management services to Hispanic heroin users increases their entry into drug treatment, HIV/AIDS testing and use of prevention services – and ultimately reduces the rate of HIV/AIDS in Springfield. While 71st nationally in population (152,000), Springfield is ranked 24th nationally in terms of its HIV/AIDS rate. Although only about a quarter of the city’s population, Hispanics account for more than half of Springfield’s people living with HIV/AIDS. And residents of Springfield’s downtown and South End neighborhoods – the two areas to be targeted with expanded intervention efforts – are the city’s highest at-risk group for HIV/AIDS.

“This is a population that has received almost no preventative health services, in great part because of their ‘circular migration’ between Springfield, New York City, New Jersey and Puerto Rico that leaves them unable to sustain any engagement with community services,” said the evaluation team’s leader Prof. Lena Lundgren, director of the School of Social Work’s Center on Work and Family. “What we learn about how to reach this hard-to-reach, at-risk group will serve as a model for other cities, and a model for how academic research can inform and strengthen community services.”

Tapestry Health’s first large federal grant is from the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT), part of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) within HHS. Part of the grant – $700,000 or about 28 percent – will fund the evaluation team. The grant helps implement a Congressional directive that SAMHSA work to enhance the quality of services and expand capacity for substance abuse treatment programs in high-risk communities of color that are impacted by both high rates of HIV/AIDS and serious substance abuse problems.

Called La Voz (The Voice), the program aims to blunt disease transmission by addressing factors known to contribute to the spread of HIV and AIDS among the primary target population, ranging from intravenous drug use to poor nutrition, and mental health issues. The bulk of the grant will fund expanded services, including outreach, risk reduction, education and supplies, prevention case management, comprehensive medical intervention, and referral. Most services will be provided in homes or other informal, non-clinical settings. The program will use an “indigenous worker” model with outreach workers having close cultural, racial, gender, and ethnic ties to those being served. For example, to address the unique needs, behavioral patterns, and responsibilities of women in Springfield’s Hispanic community, female Hispanic workers will handle all services to women.

Tapestry Health will collect participation data, using the Government Performance and Results Act guidelines, for analysis by the research team. All clients will be interviewed at six- and 12-month follow-up points after receiving initial services, and 500 will be tracked over the five-year grant period under protocols developed by Dr. Lundgren. At the conclusion, an analysis of the effectiveness of the program’s intensive, culturally sensitive prevention case management will be published by the evaluation team, which also includes Boston University Professors Sarah Bachman and Melvin Delgado, and Professor Hortensia Amaro of Northeastern University.

Boston University’s School of Social Work has forged a productive, research-based relationship with Tapestry Health Systems, the primary provider of health and human services for low-income, uninsured individuals in western Massachusetts, serving 50,000 people annually at 17 sites. A prominent provider of a broad array of HIV/AIDS services, Tapestry Health has been the region’s sole provider of low-cost, federally funded (Title X) reproductive health care and family planning services since its founding in 1973 as the Family Planning Council of Western Massachusetts.

The Boston University School of Social Work offers an integrated program of study, including clinical and macro social work methods. It has 370 full-time, part-time and dual-degree students at the masters and doctoral level. With a total enrollment of more than 29,000 in its 17 schools and colleges, Boston University is the fourth-largest independent university in the United States. The University offers an exceptional grounding in liberal arts, a broad range of programs in the arts, sciences, engineering, and professional areas, and state-of-the-art facilities for teaching and research.

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