Agency expects in-home HIV tests to further increase caseload, which has already jumped 60% since it launched new counseling service

BACK ON TRACK | Robert Giuliano, who said Legacy’s counselors helped him realize that crystal meth was making his life hell, talks to Executive Director Melissa Grove. Giuliano was among the first clients at the agency’s new walk-in counseling clinic, which was launched last December. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer

Robert Giuliano might have eventually gotten counseling to deal with his drug problem and destructive relationship.

“I was in a weird zone,” Giuliano recalled.

More likely, Giuliano would have made appointments and broken them.

But last December, Legacy Counseling Center created a walk-in clinic to help people with their problems at the point of crisis.

Giuliano was one of the walk-in clinic’s first clients and continues to see a counselor weekly. He credits his caseworker at AIDS Arms for sending him to Legacy directly from her office.

He said counseling helped him realize crystal meth was making his life hell.

“I’ve been clean for a while now,” Giuliano says. “I’m happier now. I get to appointments on time, to work on time. I’m working on loving myself. I’m a better person because of Legacy.”

Giuliano is one of many success stories at Legacy’s walk-in clinic, which was launched before the holidays and made permanent due to high demand.

The clinic has resulted in a 65 percent increase in clients at Legacy this year — as well as a budget shortfall.

Melissa Grove, Legacy’s executive director, said when the program started, she expected to see a number of new people dealing with immediate crises related to their HIV infections and substance abuse problems.

But she was surprised that so many became regular clients.

“At Legacy, we pride ourselves on being responsive to client needs,” Grove said. “It’s important to catch people at the moment they’re ready for help.”

She said that often people have to be in a great deal of emotional pain before they’ll come to deal with their problems.

“Even waiting a week, the immediate crisis could pass and we could miss the opportunity to engage with them and get them the help they need,” she said.

Grove said some are so depressed, they can’t muster the energy to make a phone call. But when possible, she encourages people to call first to minimize the wait — and so she can make sure someone is available when they get there.

“We were accidentally keeping people away,” Grove said.

Grove said that if someone is suicidal, they can’t wait for an appointment.

She said more doctors with little HIV experience are testing for the virus in general exams.  When someone gets a positive result, they need to talk to someone experienced in the field.

Another Legacy client who asked not to be identified agreed that the walk-in clinic saved his life.

“The day I found out I tested positive, I was in total shock and the doctor who told me suggested I go to Legacy immediately because he could tell I was not taking it well,” the client said.

The doctor called ahead to let Grove know he was coming.

“I was scared because I had never been to counseling before,” he said. “The therapist really helped me deal with the news. I thought my life was over, but now he helped me understand that everything is going to be OK, and that I can handle it.”

Grove said there are other counseling clinics in the area, but Legacy is HIV-friendly and LGBT-friendly.

She gave several examples of clients’ experiences elsewhere. One therapist used Windex to clean the chair after the person revealed his HIV status. Another counselor — a licensed therapist — told the client, “It’s God’s wrath against gay people.”

Since the walk-in clinic began, Grove said her agency has seen about 40 new walk-ins each month in addition to the regular client load. But many that have turned into return clients have put a strain on her agency’s resources.

Grove expects to see another surge beginning this month. That’s because OraSure began selling a home HIV test last week. Using the new kit, people will get results alone at home and without counseling or information about available services.

Grove said she plans to distribute business cards to as many pharmacies as she can, starting in Oak Lawn and spreading throughout the city. She hopes to insert one of her cards into every test sold.

She said she hears recently diagnosed people say, “My life is over.” That’s followed by a list of other fears — “No one will love me,” “My family will reject me” and “I’ll be fired from my job.”

She fears that when people who are not prepared for a positive result begin testing at home, there will be a rash of suicides.

She hopes that the walk-in clinic and the emergency hotline that is answered 24 hours a day will save lives.

To cover the additional patient load, Legacy hired additional therapists that Grove said “exploded the budget.”

The annual Red Party in September filled some of the funding shortfall. Red Party co-founder and President Jared Pearce said he’s a fan of the new clinic.

“As a result of this amazing new service, they are running a deficit for the first time in a decade,” Pearce said.

Grove said while the Red Pary made a difference, Legacy has scheduled another fundraiser this weekend.

The cabaret-themed “A Night of Glitz and Glam” is from 6–10 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 20, at the Brick. Denise Lee, Voice of Pride winner Dru Rivera and gospel singer Marvin Mathews will perform.

The evening includes a silent auction and a raffle for a pair of Southwest Airlines tickets.

Tickets are $20 in advance and $30 at the door.

Grove said for many people, Legacy is now their entry point to healthcare.

“From the moment a person is diagnosed, to telling a partner and family members, to how to cope on the job,” Grove said. “As crises pop up through life, we’ll be there.”
“I love these people,” Giuliano said. “I consider them my family.”


‘A Night of Glitz and Glam’

The cabaret-themed fundraiser for Legacy will be from 6–10 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 20, at the Brick. Denise Lee, Voice of Pride winner Dru Rivera and gospel singer Marvin Mathews will perform.

The evening includes a silent auction and a raffle for a pair of Southwest Airlines tickets. Tickets are $20 in advance and $30 at the door.

Legacy Counseling Center, 4054 McKinney Ave. Suite 102. Walk-in clinic open Mon.–Thurs. 9 a.m.–4 p.m. Fri. 9 a.m.–noon. 24-hour emergency hotline at 214-207-3953.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 19, 2012.