After seeing a friend die untreated, Phillip Turner dedicated himself to making sure others receive the care the need and deserve
Phillip Turner is a linkage-to-care specialist with AIDS Healthcare Foundation. His job, he explained, is “to discover newly-diagnosed individuals who don’t know what to do next,” and help them take the next step in getting the care they need.
Turner, who’s been with AHF for almost two years, takes about 16 new people a month under his wing.
He said when people are newly diagnosed, they often tell him their lives are over. He works to convince them that all they need is a lifestyle change; in most cases, they’ll take a pill once a day and then can lead a normal life.
But Turner knows things aren’t that simple for everyone. “For instance, if someone is homeless, I know they’re more worried about finding a place to live,” he said.
In those cases, he refers clients to Legacy Counseling Center’s Homebase for Housing, which helps people find affordable housing and has a program to house people with HIV as they transition back to health and to work. He refers them to Resource Center’s food pantry and lunch program and to a group like United Black Ellument for socializing.
Turner also follows newly-diagnosed people to make sure they’re getting the medical care they need.
“I just want to guide them through the process and empower them,” he said.
He tracks them through their first three clinic appointments, reschedules for them if they miss an appointment and makes sure no new problems have come up.
“After that, I tell them, ‘If you need me, don’t hesitate to give me a call,’” Turner said.
If someone’s dropped out of care, Turner said, it’s usually because that person’s more concerned about something like where their next meal’s coming from instead of medical treatment for HIV. “If I have one of those, I’ll take him out to eat or give him a Kroger card,” he said.
In one case, Turner got a homeless client a $19 phone, so they could keep in touch. He said spending just a few dollars to make sure someone had a phone was a lot cheaper than treating medical complications that could arise when someone falls out of care.
Turner moved to Dallas two years ago. He has a bachelor’s degree in business administration and worked as a teller for Capital One and then as a transport tech. But he didn’t want to work in the business world anymore, and a series of events, starting in 2013 when a friend of his died of complications from AIDS, led him to his current position.
“I got a call he was in ICU,” Turner said. “He didn’t tell anyone he had HIV. It saddens me he got to the point he thought no one cared for him and he had no need to live anymore.”
A year later, another friend told him about the opening with AHF, and Turner jumped at the chance to make a difference.
When another friend was diagnosed but didn’t seek immediate treatment, Turner got frustrated.
“You know I work in this field,” he recalled telling his friend. “Why didn’t you call me?”
While he loves what he’s doing, Turner is preparing himself for the next eventual step. He’s getting his MBA, but thinks he’d rather remain on the medical side, maybe as a nurse practitioner. Getting through nursing school is difficult, however, while maintaining a full-time job.
“Take care of yourself,” is Turner’s best advise, but if you test positive, he said, “There’s no shame and nothing to hide.”
Sunday, Feb. 7 is National Black HIV Awareness Day. Turner and other AHF staff will be testing for HIV and other STDs from 3-6 p.m. at Out of the Closet, 3920 Cedar Springs Road. AIDS Walk South Dallas director Auntjuan Wiley will speak. Chips, dip and margaritas will be served.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 5, 2016.