Our COVID-19 Response
Howard Brown Health’s COVID-19 response emerged from decades of experience in pandemic response during the HIV/AIDS crisis and in infectious disease care, working with people affected by STIs, hepatitis, and meningitis, all of which have taken heavy tolls on LGBTQ communities. Rare among community health centers, we have epidemiologists and infectious disease specialists on staff.
In March, we quickly set up heated tents behind four clinics (in Englewood, Rogers Park, Lakeview, and Uptown) and repurposed our outreach space in Hyde Park to provide testing in five locations. Soon thereafter, we formed partnerships with Project Vida in Little Village and Taskforce Prevention & Community Services in Austin to set up testing tents in those underserved communities. Project Vida is located in the Zip code with the highest number of COVID-19 cases in Illinois.
The final piece of our testing puzzle is a mobile unit on loan to us from Mobile Care Chicago. This unit allows us to set up testing where it’s needed most. In partnership with community organizations, churches, and elected officials, mobile testing visits a different South or West side community six days a week to provide convenient testing at no cost.
In June, Howard Brown surpassed 10,000 COVID-19 tests, completing 3% of all tests in Chicago.
In addition to using our deep experience in community outreach, prevention, screening and care of people with infectious diseases, we are:
- Staffing a COVID-19 line through our call center to address patient concerns and screen by phone – a service that was essential when testing capacity was in short supply in March and April;
- Contact tracing: using our experience in contact tracing for STIs, we have expanded our staff and partnered with medical students from University of Chicago. We have shared technical assistance with the City of Chicago and other partners;
- For the first time able to offer telehealth, including primary care, group and individualized therapy, and specialty care including hormone access, HIV care, and more;
- Expanding our social services to include:
- More frequent case management contact;
- COVID-19 patient navigation, including check-in calls, financial assistance for two to four weeks, and other services and resources;
- Offering healthy food box delivery to people living with multiple chronic conditions and people who have contracted COVID-19;
- Equipping clients with bus cards, ride share credits, grocery store gift cards, emergency rental and utility assistance, and housing referrals;
- Maintaining a small pantry of ready-to-eat food at clinics and providing referrals to food pantries, emergency funds, and other resources;
- Working with clients to create safety plans and budgets and providing employment support such as resume writing and job search;
- Our Intensive Community Care team called hundreds of patients aged 65+, many of whom live with HIV, diabetes, and/or COPD to check on their health and wellness and fill in gaps including food access and telemedicine appointments;
- Our Aging Services team offers an array of services, including support groups for caregivers of people living with dementia and for people living with diabetes (offered in English and Spanish) and a drop-in group for people living with type 2 diabetes;
- Supporting the Chicago Department of Public Health in understanding community immunity, how COVID-19 impacts on different demographic groups who have varying risk factors, and tracking important data points to inform an effective vaccine rollout strategy in the future;
- Continuing to provide services to young people experiencing homelessness at Broadway Youth Center using a modified model with less contact. Services include healthcare; meals; linkage to resources; drop-in services like laundry and showers; debit and gift cards; and clothing. BYC began collaborating with partner organizations to deliver essential supplies and care to shelters, transitional housing, and homes where clients sheltered in place and as the stay-home order continued, expanded to provide services in Auburn Gresham at the site where we have been hosting Southside Safe Space for two years;
- Reconfiguring clinic spaces to allow for safe visits for lab tests and necessary in-person care;
- Offering walk-in sexual and reproductive health services and screening – a service that has been available and in high demand throughout the pandemic;
- Converting our smallest clinic, the Diversey clinic, to an employee health clinic to support the health and sustainability of our workforce;
- Offering online support groups include those for sexual violence survivors, caregivers, Spanish speakers living with HIV, and individuals who identify as asexual or intersex;
- Utilizing a mobile health unit to administer injectable antipsychotic medications to patients so they do not have to leave home and later expanding mobile psychiatric care to a wider population, including providing medication-assisted therapy for individuals using opioids;
- Offering remote substance use therapy; support groups; Suboxone and medically assisted therapy in concert with recovery coaching; and linkage to inpatient care, detoxification, and sober-living options;
- Keeping In Power (the nation’s first LGBTQ sexual violence response program) open; as one of the few sexual harm response programs that continued to operate in Chicago, we offer support in obtaining orders of protection, safety planning around harm in the house, and checking in with clients. As rape crisis centers across the city closed, they referred clients to In Power for medical care and case management. This need has been particularly acute as intimate partner violence is increasing with more people remaining at home;
- Collaborating to advocate successfully to gain permission from the State of Illinois to conduct forensic exams for survivors of sexual assault for the duration of the state of emergency and 90 days thereafter. Only hospitals are permitted to administer sexual assault kits in Illinois, and hospitals discontinued this service;
- Sourcing PPE: when routine dental care was deemed nonessential, our dental team pivoted to become an amazing PPE team, ordering, inventorying, and distributing our limited resources and providing training and fit testing. At the same time, one dentist continued to be on site to provide emergency treatment;
- Mailing HIV/STI prevention supplies and at-home HIV test kits to community members who request them to promote social distancing and the safety of patients and staff. Health educators provide virtual counselling sessions with clients to walk them through the HIV self-screening process or provide linkage to care and other support for people who test positive for HIV;
- Providing virtual support to trans clients for name change documentation, adjusting gender markers on legal IDs, and providing physician letters for access to gender affirming surgeries.
We are proud of the responsiveness of our staff to the pandemic, correcting our course sometimes daily, reacting quickly to opportunities and challenges, and always acting with the best interest of our communities.