Students assess the state’s ability to meet HIV-related needs for people over 50

Due to the longer survival afforded by antiretroviral therapy and high rates of new infections among people over age 50, senior service agencies in Connecticut have more clients than ever living with or at risk for HIV.

In fact, 49 percent of people living with HIV in the state were over age 50 in 2010 and the demographic made up 22 percent of the newly diagnosed cases.

Four students from the Yale School of Public Health’s Student Consulting Group recently assessed whether Connecticut’s senior service organizations have the organizational capacity to meet the needs of people over age 50 living with HIV. They also identified factors that may hinder or enable these organizations to adequately address the needs of this growing population.

They found that most organizations did not screen for HIV, none had specific HIV programs for mature adults and many did not consider it to be part of their mission. Furthermore, older HIV patients have unique needs that are not being met and the generation’s awareness of HIV risk is limited.

“Working with the Student Consulting Group gave me technical and practical skills that were an important part of my MPH experience,” says Margaret Lippitt,  team leader and a 2013 graduate of the Yale School of Public Health in the Division of Social and Behavioral Sciences. “I had a little experience in this area, but working with a team of other students helped me to learn new techniques and ways of thinking about qualitative data. Even more importantly, I learned project management skills that definitely aren’t taught in classes. Dealing with institutional review board proposals, project budgets and work plans was a really valuable experience.”

The group’s final report was shared with attendees at the AIDS Connecticut (ACT) and CT Department on Aging Summit in September. “The work that they’ve done is laying the groundwork for a larger conversation,” said Shawn Lang, director of public policy for ACT. The group’s goal is to raise awareness about HIV-in-the-over-50 population in order to increase the capacity of senior service providers to address the issue in a sensitive, knowledgeable and competent manner.

While still a relatively new organization, The Student Consulting Group has already become a go-to resource for public health organizations in Connecticut and beyond. Last year their work included literature reviews, including one for the legal counsel for the governor of Washington state, community needs assessments for hospitals, a public service film and developing research protocols. Shelley Geballe, JD, MPH, a lecturer in public health and law, serves as The Student Consulting Group faculty adviser.

In addition to Lippitt, the Assessment of Public Health Needs of Older Adults with HIV Project Team included Hannah Mitchell, MPH ’13, Avantika Saraf, MPH ’13, and Musleehat Hamadu, MPH ’14. Becca Levy, PhD, director of the Social and Behavioral Sciences Division, served as faculty adviser for the project.