By Brandon Wollerson & Laura Still
In many ways, Achieving Together: A Community Plan to End the HIV Epidemic in Texas was the catalyst for advancing conversations about ending the HIV epidemic in Austin. As the Texas HIV Syndicate, the integrated prevention and care planning body for Texas, began the process of developing a statewide ending the HIV epidemic plan, those of us working in Austin started having specific conversations about what we were doing to end the HIV epidemic here. We learned about Fast Track Cities, the global movement to end the HIV epidemic, and how San Antonio was the only Fast Track City in Texas at the time; we felt we needed to add Austin to that list!
The process started organically with conversations among key stakeholders at the end of 2017 and early 2018. These conversations led to many meetings and an alignment of the goals and objectives in Austin with those of the Fast Track Cities global initiative. Austin officially became a participating Fast Track City when Mayor Adler and Travis County Judge Sarah Echardt signed the Paris Declaration on June 20, 2018.
Once Austin officially became a Fast Track City, the planning group assembled working groups under four pillars:
- Testing and rapid linkage
- Viral suppression and retention
- Ending stigma
The working groups are made up of community stakeholders, including organizations, health departments, and people who are personally impacted by HIV. They are tasked with identifying ongoing needs and barriers to ending the HIV epidemic in Austin and addressing them. Some of Austin’s unique challenges are the racial disparities related to people in care, out of care, and virally suppressed. We also need to work harder to reach the most vulnerable people in our communities.
Aligning Multiple Plans
Austin’s Fast Track City plan is our local vehicle to address ending the HIV epidemic. Achieving Together set the foundation for our local work by giving us the initial tools and language. From there, we looked at our community specifically to identify Austin’s unique challenges, opportunities, and strengths. Austin’s Fast Track City plan maintains elements of Achieving Together. We customized the plan to our unique community.
Achieving Together and the Fast Track Cities movements also remind us that ending the HIV epidemic is bigger than just our local community, that we are connected to the statewide and global cause and commitment to end the HIV epidemic. It’s a “Think globally. Act locally” mindset.
Taking Action Through Rapid Linkage
Achieving Together recognizes that we all need to rely on each other to support the work and the movement of ending the HIV epidemic in Texas. This is not about just one organization, but more about how we work together as an entire community to reflect the values and aspirations of the plan. One concrete way we can work collaboratively in Austin to eliminate barriers to care is through the creation of a Rapid Linkage to Care program throughout the city. We envision a system of care in Austin that rapidly links persons newly diagnosed with HIV into care and treatment within 72 hours.
We have started by identifying organizations that currently offer rapid linkage programming. Next we will work to improve coordination across organizations that provide opportunities for Rapid Linkage at other points of entry, such as emergency departments and non-traditional testing sites. Eventually we hope to create a status neutral system of care as we build a network and process to rapidly link people to HIV care, we can mirror that for people who need rapid access to PrEP or PEP.
While there are many challenges to ending the HIV epidemic in Austin, we hope that by equipping people and organizations with the tools to realize that the more we do to rapidly link people to care and treatment, the better the outcomes will be for them and for our community. We want to reinforce that everyone has something to contribute toward ending the HIV epidemic in Austin and that when we work together collaboratively and efficiently, we can meet our goals and build community at the same time.
Brandon Wollerson, Director of Clinical Operation, KIND Clinic
Brandon Wollerson is Texas Health Action’s first Director of Clinical Operations. In this role, Brandon oversees the clinical operations of all Kind Clinic locations. Brandon holds a Master of Science in Social Work degree from The University of Texas at Austin and has worked in the HIV field in Austin for over 14 years. He is deeply committed to addressing HIV and other LGBTQ+ health equity issues through his leadership with Austin’s Fast-Track Cities, the Texas HIV Syndicate, and Austin’s LGBTQ Quality of Life Advisory Commission. Brandon lives in Austin with his husband, Scott, and their four-year-old daughter, Addie.
Laura Still, Public Health Program Supervisor, Austin Public Health
At Austin Public Health, Laura has served as Planner for the Austin HIV Planning Council and has recently taken on the new role of HIV Outreach and Mobile Testing Supervisor. Her favorite animal is the unicorn.