Team Spotlight: HIV Counseling and Testing

HCAT 2013

HCAT Team, 2013

“There is never a dull moment at HCAT,” remarked Program Manager Perry Rhodes, III, of AHP’s HIV Counseling and Testing program. When he adds, “We are constantly seeing and responding to new people and working out in the community,” it’s an understatement. AHP’s largest program in terms of clients receiving services, HCAT delivers HIV, hepatitis C, and STD testing and counseling to thousands of folks a year.

Adding new client services also keeps things from getting dull at HCAT. AHP will be one of only two test programs in California to pilot a new test that can detect not only HIV antibodies, but also HIV antigens, a capacity that can detect HIV earlier than current rapid tests. And HCAT will add syringe exchange services, in June, as a pilot program in collaboration with the San Francisco Department of Public Health. Syringe exchange is a vital HIV and hepatitis C prevention measure among people who use injection drugs

When Rhodes says “out in the community,” he means not only at AHP’s 1930 Market Street Services Center, but throughout the city in AHP’s mobile counseling and testing van, at street fairs, and at locations who have requested our testing services. We can regularly be found in the Castro on Monday and Thursday evenings, in addition to Sunday afternoons. Follow HCAT’s Twitter, @502TEST, for van location updates.

HCAT has a long history of being out in front. In 1985, AHP pioneered the first large-scale anonymous HIV testing program in the nation and perhaps the world. And HCAT’s model of client-centered HIV test counseling became a model, adapted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

At the beginning, AHP wasn’t sure how the community would react to HIV testing. “It wasn’t going to help people,” recounted Marcia Quackenbush, LMFT, former AHP counselor and Training Manager, in a 1994 interview. At the time, no one knew for certain how HIV was spread and there were no treatments for the disease, so testing HIV-positive seemed to be pointless. Quackenbush added, that the knowledge that a person was HIV-infected “was just going to make them [feel] crazy, especially if they didn’t know what it meant. But we did get into testing, because we believed we could do it ethically and appropriately with counseling from a client-centered method.”

Even in the early days of the epidemic, testing was a crucial point of entry for people worried about HIV and seeking to take affirmative steps toward healthier lives. Today, HCAT’s motto—“Know Yourself, Know Your Status, and Know Your Community”— represents a shift in the science, since knowing you are HIV-positive or HIV-negative can lead to an active engagement in physical and mental health-affirming choices, including effective antiviral treatment and prevention.

Come say “Hi!” to the HCAT staff and volunteers by making an appointment online or during drop in hours at our Services Center. They would love to see you.