Matthew 25 AIDS Services Dedicated to Providing Help Amid Pandemic

Nov 8, 2020

As COVID-19 cases surges, it's tempting to look back at other epidemics the country has faced, including HIV and AIDS in the 1980s and 90s.

Since COVID-19 is especially dangerous for those with pre-existing conditions, the care HIV and AIDS positive individuals receive is vital. One western Kentucky-based organization is continuing to provide as many services as possible during the pandemic.

In non-pandemic times, Matthew 25 AIDS Services, Inc. health educators LaDeirdre Mumford and Jenika Soni's job would involve going out into the community. Their normal duties range from holding testing events to attending activities like health fairs or even drag shows, and just about everything in between. 

This sometimes includes administering rapid tests at Western Kentucky University, where those getting screened can sometimes have a lot of questions. 

"I had somebody who, they were negative, but who was very emotional because they were scared. They don't know what HIV is like, they don't know what life changes they would have to bring," Soni said.

It's moments like that which demonstrate the importance of education about HIV and AIDS, especially since they're still present,  and medicine has evolved to the point when they are very livable diseases.

However, since Warren County has a high positivity rate of COVID-19 tests, Mumford and Soni are mainly working around Matthew 25's offices and focusing on passing out safe-sex materials and screenings.

"Sometimes people will come schedule an appointment to get [an] HIV test. Next thing you know, we're in the community doing condom drops at different organizations. We might be doing education, we might be traveling to Owensboro, helping with the rehab center. We're pretty much just everywhere," Mumford said.

Matthew 25's footprint reaches beyond Bowling Green. Warren County is just the latest site to open in the organization that serves more than 600 clients around Henderson, Owensboro, Warren County and the Evansville, IN., region.

Bowling Green site director Rachel Gilpin said population growth in south-central Kentucky caused them to open a fourth location.

"We had over 100 patients when we opened this office already back in January. That number has continued to grow and we have continued to add clients to our numbers," Gilpin said.

Matthew 25's mission since starting as an offshoot of the Zion United Church of Christ in Henderson during the 1990s has been to provide holistic care.

Grant funding and donations help the group provide not only initial screenings, education and medication assistance, but also food, mental health resources, and accessing housing aid.

Matthew 25 recently started offering telehealth appointments from its office, as well.

"Clients can come in and receive their HIV care in a one-stop atmosphere," Gilpin said.

Walking through the office, Gilpin pointed out one of the remote visit exam rooms.

"They're able to see them on the video screen. They can talk back and forth. The provider can listen to their lungs, listen to their hearts with the nurse maneuvering the equipment for them. They can visualize their ears, they can look at anything," Gilpin said.

She said the pivot to telehealth is one of many ways Matthew 25 has adapted during the realities of the coronavirus.

Gilpin said the COVID-19 pandemic is similar to the 1980s or 90s in that people are experiencing a fear of the unkown.

However, HIV and AIDS resources don't have to be unknown. Matthew 25 is willing to help out anyone in their coverage area, regardless of means to pay for treatment.

Medical case manager Michelle Hall coordinates help with things like transportation, housing and insurance. She said need levels have risen during the pandemic.

"We had several people who have been laid off or don't income or access to food, and so I think the need level has just risen because of that," Hall said.

Still, with another office closer to many clients now open, Matthew 25 is dedicated to rising to the moment. With creative thinking and virutal appointments and events, it's hoping to fulfill its purpose of service outlined in the Bible chapter it's named after.