by Doug Parvis 2L and Michelle Salomon, Clinical Law Fellow, Health Care Delivery and Child Welfare Legal Issues Clinic
Many people living with HIV face discrimination in public and private settings. They lose jobs when their status is disclosed. They also lose friends and other means of support. Many of our clients come to the Health Care Delivery and Child Welfare Legal Issues Clinic because they do not know where else to turn for advice and legal advocacy. We, in turn, understand the paramount importance of privacy, confidentiality, and ensuring that the needful individuals feel that they are in a safe environment to talk.
The Clinic provides free civil legal services to individuals and families impacted by HIV. Since 1987, the Clinic has helped clients with public benefits appeals and end of life planning documents, represented clients in employment discrimination and housing matters, and advocated for children and families in child welfare and custody matters. The Clinic receives referrals from pediatric and adult HIV clinics on campus, including the JACQUES Initiative of the School of Medicine’s Institute of Human Virology, which envisions “a city with no new cases of HIV” by providing free education, outreach, HIV testing, and serves as a linkage to care and long-term treatment for urban populations infected with HIV.
This summer a new partnership began between the Clinic and the JACQUES Initiative, allowing students to gain a unique perspective on the HIV epidemic in Baltimore. On June 26, clinic students volunteered at City Uprising HIV Outreach – an event where JACQUES provided free HIV services in five city locations. Students and faculty from the schools of law, nursing, pharmacy, social work and medicine handed out fliers and encouraged people to get tested. Approximately one month later, students volunteered at Project Homeless Connect, an outreach event at M&T Bank stadium that drew nearly 1,000 homeless and low-income people with the goal of connecting them to health, housing, and employment services.
Through volunteering, students witnessed the human impact of HIV. As they approached hundreds of people on the street to talk about free HIV testing, students frequently received looks of disgust and anger, as well as insults. They explained why testing is so important, especially in light of the reality that in Baltimore City, 1 in 40 people ages thirteen and over are living with HIV, twenty percent of whom do not know they are doing so.
But there is another side to HIV testing. The societal stigma that surrounds people living with HIV can often lead to discrimination in the workplace, disapproval from friends and family, as well as physical, emotional, and economic abuse. All too often, laws and policies reinforce the stigma, such as the criminal laws throughout the U.S. that create special crimes for HIV positive individuals exposing or transmitting HIV to another person. Such laws do not protect those at risk for contracting HIV, but instead reinforce the societal degradation associated with knowing one’s status.
People living with HIV face complex medical and legal challenges without simple solutions. It takes an interdisciplinary approach to fully treat someone living with HIV. These interactions challenged students and their peers across campus—the next generation of lawyers, doctors, nurses, pharmacists and social workers—to constantly ask themselves a new question: What can we do within our professions to help reduce the stigma and increase access to care and services? The more people who ask that question, the closer we are to providing the range of services necessary for individuals with HIV to live complete, fulfilling and healthy lives.