AIDS alliance will seek patients Group will reach out to the sick, organize prevention programs

June 23, 1996|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

In Carroll County, many are willing to help patients with HIV and AIDS, but the patients are few.

Even so, a newly formed AIDS Alliance for Carroll County hopes to find those patients and eliminate any gaps in health care and meet other needs.

There are AIDS patients in the county, but they often suffer and die in silence and alone, afraid that their neighbors and friends will discover that they are infected, health officials and others said.

About 50 people, including residents and health workers, met in Westminster last week to organize the nonprofit alliance, identify patients and plan education programs. The alliance will also stress preventive education, particularly for the preteens.

"Prevention must be in the forefront," said Deborah Middleton, supervisor of Carroll's communicable-disease program. "If we do good prevention, we won't have to worry about this problem."

Many were unsure how to get the message to those at risk for acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

Before Thursday's two-hour meeting ended, alliance members had identified many high-risk segments of the population, including the mentally ill, the homeless and prisoners.

The Health Department offers free testing and counseling at local shelters and at the Carroll County Detention Center, but many would like to expand the program.

"I want prevention stressed," said Rita Ziolkowski, who works at the Granite House, a residential and counseling facility for mentally ill adults. "I want people to learn how not to get in-

fected."

Nationwide, the numbers of teens and women with AIDS are soaring, said Jennifer Blumberg, regional AIDS educator.

"We are seeing many patients in their 20s who were infected in their teens," said Elizabeth Ruff, a Health Department pediatrician. "Are we really addressing their needs? Are our children given enough help? They get little health education beyond the ninth grade."

Need for education

Formal health education ends in ninth grade, but health issues surface in many other high school courses, said Bill Piercy, county supervisor of health education.

"We can give them all the information available, but it will still be a problem," he said. "The media and peer pressure push teens to take risks."

Last week, the Board of Education rejected a sex education video because it did not stress abstinence. Two members of the school board attended the alliance's first meeting.

"Unfortunately, Carroll County is coming of age [with AIDS statistics]," said Joseph Mish, board president. "Continuing the education we have been doing all along is a good idea."

Although the perception lingers that AIDS patients don't exist in the county, most recent statistics show the Carroll County Health Department is caring for 50 AIDS patients. But, accurate numbers are difficult to collect, Middleton said.

"There is not one community in the country that knows its exact AIDS population," said Middleton.

'Missed opportunity'

The county Health Department reviews death records and often finds an AIDS death, "a missed opportunity for us to offer care," Middleton said.

Even patients who use county health services are isolated and unwilling to let those who could help know, said Betty Schlerf, a registered nurse with the Health Department.

"Where are the dying AIDS patients getting their care? We are not taking care of AIDS in Carroll County," said Joanne McAuliffe, director of clinical services at Carroll Hospice, which cares for the majority of the terminally ill patients in the county.

Linda Stromberg, a registered nurse who directs the Health Department's AIDS program, said multiplying the number of reported patients by any number from five to nine would give an accepted estimate of people infected with the virus in the area.

"Here people are so scared to come out," said Lisa Yingling, an HIV-positive registered nurse, who made her illness public a year ago. "They go to D.C. or Baltimore for treatment. At home in Carroll County, they are going to hide."

Since Yingling disclosed her illness, she has been besieged at her home in Manchester by callers asking for advice and by groups asking her to speak.

She often addresses youth groups.

Education sought

Patricia Silverman, Yingling's mother, called for a speakers bureau, an information hot line and a media program that would promote the prevention message.

"As poor as education is in high school, it is nonexistent after that," Silverman said.

The alliance plans to meet on the third Thursday of every month at the Westminster library.

"Our fondest hope is that other people feel safe enough and good enough to come into our alliance," Middleton said.

Information: 876-4923.

Pub Date: 6/23/96

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