The BEACON Project
HIV is a manageable disease, if you manage it. Without regular doctor’s visits, lab tests to monitor the progression of the disease, and access to live-saving medications, HIV/AIDS is just as deadly now as it was 30 years ago. Unfortunately, more than 50% of the people living with HIV/AIDS in the Saint Louis region have not seen a doctor, had labs drawn, or taken HIV medications within the last 12 months. They have been “lost to care” and are not only the most likely to get opportunistic infections and access emergency rooms for care; they are also more likely to infect others and spread this treatable, preventable disease.
To address this critical gap in care in our region, Saint Louis Effort for AIDS partnered with other agencies to create the Barrier Elimination and Care Navigation (BEACON) Project. One of thirteen access-to-care programs nationwide, BEACON is the only program in the St. Louis region that is directly focused on this lost to care population. We find them, help them navigate the HIV care system, and assist them in overcoming the barriers that are keeping them from getting into or staying in care.
Lawrence was not doing well when BEACON staff met him at his sister’s home in North County. He had not seen an HIV doctor in more than 5 years, and he looked very sick. Through a special arrangement with one of our local HIV specialists, the BEACON staff was able to get Lawrence into see the doctor two days later. The doctor immediately had him admitted to the hospital to begin treatment. A year later, Lawrence has an undetectable viral load, he is 96% less likely to infect anyone else, and he feels well enough that he has been able to start working part-time. As Lawrence says, “Because of the support of the BEACON Project, I am reclaiming my life.”
Since the beginning of this clinically innovative project, we have assisted more than 380 people who were identified as lost to care or never in care. This may seem like a small number, but, through the efforts of the project, the unmet need for HIV treatment in the Saint Louis Region has been reduced from 50% to 31%. The project’s impact on the health, HIV service delivery system, and financial stability of our community has been recognized as significant both within the HIV community and in the community at large. In 2013, The BEACON Project was honored with a “What’s Right With the Region” Award from FOCUS St. Louis.
Heath is a disabled combat veteran. He is also HIV+. He fell out of HIV care two years ago after losing his job and becoming homeless. By the time he entered the BEACON Project, his cd4 had fallen so low that he officially had an AIDS diagnosis. The BEACON staff assisted Heath in getting emergency housing and starting back in HIV care, while helping him navigate the VA housing system. The BEACON Project kept him housed for six months until he was able to receive permanent housing assistance from the VA. During that time, he started back into HIV care, and his immune system is functioning better than it has in years.
The BEACON Project is truly serving those most in need of urgent medical care. In order for this ground-breaking work to continue, we need your help.
Will you be a BEACON of Hope for those who so desperately need assistance?