The Dr. Peter Centre, located in Vancouver, was founded by Dr. Peter Jepson-Young in 1997 to provide comfort and medical care to patients with HIV/AIDS…
By Scott Elliott (pictured above)
The Dr. Peter Centre in Vancouver has implemented a stigma-free approach towards HIV since its inception in 1997. We have tackled the AIDS pandemic with outstanding clinical and trauma-informed care, delivered daily. Due to the needs of the community, the Centre has emerged as one of the world’s most recognized care facilities for people living at the intersection of HIV/AIDS, substance use and mental illness. We share our best practices with agencies and governments across the country and around the globe.
While suppressing the HIV virus is the main goal of treatment, participants at the Dr. Peter Centre also have access to a variety of healthcare services that tend to their physical, mental and emotional well-being. This includes harm reduction services, counsellors, nutritious meals, nurses, art therapy, music therapy and recreation therapy. This holistic approach is vital in being able to meet our participants where they are at and to give them the opportunity to successfully engage in their own health care.
Another component of this holistic approach to care is peer support. Support for men ages 50 and over has been established through an innovative program – the Men’s Evening Program, which was originally funded through a grant from ViiV Healthcare Canada. The program supports older gay men with multiple medical conditions, who face the social stigmas of aging with HIV. No more than one or two showed up in the beginning, but now around 25 to 40 men participate every Wednesday night. Many of these men lost most of their friends in the 1980s and 1990s due to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and the trauma resurfaces as they each start to face their own aging process. This program creates a space for people to build relationships with others who understand what they are going through, and to work through traumas or challenges they face with a counsellor and activities such as eating a meal together, art therapy and music therapy.
The Men’s Evening Program is a great place to get caught up and socialize with people who have similar lived experiences. Aging with HIV/AIDS has its complications, and this program is a safe space for those who have lived through – and continue to face – stigma from healthcare providers and traditional seniors’ facilities. It also helps them build the confidence they need to talk openly with healthcare professionals about how to best manage their HIV care, and to discuss their treatment desires and concerns, as well as their lifestyles. Attentive listening as part of active dialogue is essential in helping people feel comfortable discussing their treatment goals.
The Dr. Peter Centre is also at the frontlines of how HIV/AIDS has evolved. Today, women make up more than half (52%) of all adults living with HIV worldwide. This number remains much lower in Canada, but the Dr. Peter Centre has identified a need for developing a similar evening program for women who are living with HIV/AIDS.
One participant in the Men’s Evening Program said, “The biggest effect on older folks like myself who live with HIV is…mental health. And these two years of the COVID pandemic really take a toll. Luckily I have the Dr. Peter Centre to call home and they help me get mental support.”
Another participant told us, “I was feeling more alone and becoming more anti-social since most of my friends are gone or died with HIV. This program really encouraged me to go out and meet other older folk who are living with it, without feeling judged. Now, I’m always looking forward for every Wednesday night to catch up with friends, good conversation and good food.”
To learn more or to support this amazing initiative for aging people living with HIV, visit www.drpeter.org.
SCOTT ELLIOTT is the executive director of the Dr. Peter AIDS Foundation.