Jessica works for BGF in Adelaide, where all correspondence is now carried out digitally due to COVID-19. We spoke to Jessica about how she connects with and supports BGF clients with limited communication services, the impact of COVID-19 restrictions being lifted and what more needs to be done to support people living with HIV.
Due to a lack of adequate internet access, many of Jessica’s clients in South Australia are unable to access BGF’s online programs. To get around this issue, much of Jessica’s work now involves making phone calls to her clients so that she can continue to be in touch with them about their mental wellbeing and provide them with the support that they need.
"With CV19 restrictions in place, the biggest change in the way we support our clients, is with a lot more phone calls. Some of our clients have poor or no intent access, so the only way to support and engage with them is over the phone. There is a lot of following-up with clients because CV19 has increased the stresses of isolation, depression, mental health and other complex issues, and it is important that we continue to provide any additional support that we can. CV19 has really emphasised the shameful lack of good internet access many of our clients have compared to say the Eastern states. For example only 15-20% of my client base can access BGF’s online programs, so that has been a bit tricky and another reason why it is so important for phone call check-ins with clients to stay connected."
As a client services worker, part of Jessica’s job also involves liaising with pharmacies to ensure that clients have proper access to medication. This medication, however, is not free in South Australia. While BGF is able to support clients in this way, Jessica finds that the services provided by the government to people living with HIV are insufficient and that much more work is needed to ensure that people living with HIV are properly supported in all areas.
"One recent success we have had down here was with a homeless couple, who were referred to us as they were having problems with medical adherence. The main issue causing this lack of medical adherence was discrimination and some other mental health issues, which prevented them from going to a pharmacy. We were able to build a relationship with them and then liaise with a pharmacy so that they could go in and access their meds as needed and we of course are able to financially support that."
"In regards to what more the government can do down here for the community is quite simply more HIV specific services. They mainstream halt the support services down here and that is an issue because it is simply not working or providing the level of service our clients need. We need more resources down here. For example, medication is not free, there is no free ambulance cover and as I mentioned no HIV specific support services. Some people, like the homeless couple we are supporting often have to make a choice between medications or food, or food and a bus trip to the doctor. They are the type of things that we are facing here. I am able to assist clients with medical adherence but there is so much more that is needed."
BGF has played an important role in the lives of clients throughout the height of COVID-19. As restrictions begin to be eased and a sense of normalcy resumes, BGF is continuing to be a source of support throughout the readjustment period through Jessica and other client services workers.
"Some of our clients with compromised immune systems are fearful now that we are coming to a reduction in restrictions, that if they do start venturing out a little more, and it is important that they do venture outside for a number of reasons, not least of all mental health, that they may still be vulnerable to CV19, particularly if the restrictions are lifted too soon, and that is a major stressor for some of them. So it is important for us to discuss this with them and should they choose to self-isolate for a little longer, work out ways in which BGF can help support them going forward. It is important that we respect and support that decision should they make it.
BGF’s support has been invaluable to our clients during this time."