We talk to Andre Ceranto about the program, which is available year-round, not just during Pride Month…
We are officially headed into another season full of Pride! Typically, Pride brings increased awareness to HIV and other STIs, including the resources available to support those who have been diagnosed or are at risk. For many members of the community, Pride is seen as a time to celebrate, but for those living with or at risk of HIV, taking part in celebrations surrounding Pride may not be possible due to health concerns or trauma related to their status.
Casey House, which opened in 1988 in Toronto at the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, is a small specialty hospital – Canada’s first and only hospital for people living with or at risk of HIV. Their inpatient unit features 14 private rooms and a team of dedicated healthcare professionals providing 24-hour care. There’s also an outpatient program that runs Monday through Friday, as well as an outreach program and drop-in clinic.
We sat down with Andre Ceranto, who is extremely active in the HIV community, previously holding roles at Toronto People with AIDS Foundation, Fife House Foundation and AIDS Committee of Toronto. Ceranto has been Casey House’s peer program manager since late 2018, focusing on supporting HIV-positive folks and their health by connecting them to needed services.
How does Casey House support the PLHIV community in Toronto and, more broadly, in Canada?
We recognize a person’s physical, mental, cultural and social well-being as fundamental components of wellness. In addition to a 14-bed inpatient unit for people requiring 24/7 medical care, there is a robust outpatient program for people who can benefit from a range of health services and social supports. Through individual appointments and facilitated groups, an interdisciplinary clinical team builds relationships through a harm reduction approach. In 2021, Casey House opened Ontario’s first hospital-based supervised consumption service for clients who use substances. Building on a legacy of advocacy and social justice, Casey House works to actively dismantle barriers to care and safe living. We provide a community and sense of belonging that connects people to care, and the humanity of each client is at the heart of everything they do.
What is the Peer Program? What are the goals or objectives of the program?
At Casey House, peers are individuals living with HIV or with experience of substance use who are trained to support others by sharing their own lived experience. Peers are integrated into Casey House’s client care team to support clients as they work to attain their health and wellness goals. Embedding the wisdom of lived experience into the care team enables diverse perspectives and skills as well as meaningful opportunities for peer connections, and strengthens Casey House’s commitment to GIPA/MEPA [Greater Involvement of People Living with HIV and/or AIDS/Meaningful Engagement of People Living with HIV and/or AIDS].
In both the inpatient unit and outpatient services, individuals with lived experience are matched with clients who could benefit from additional one-on-one support. Each peer works directly with one client to assist with different aspects of living with HIV, such as adhering to their strict daily regimen of medications, attending multiple medical appointments, or living in social isolation. Peers build relationships with clients not by telling them what to do or not do, but by sharing their personal experience.
Why is peer support particularly important for those navigating an HIV diagnosis?
Peers have been there. They can utilize their experience to support others dealing with a lot of the same issues. Sometimes they can prevent other folks from going through the hardships they had to go through in accessing support and finding information.
Based on your experience, how might Pride impact someone navigating a new diagnosis, struggling to access care or dealing with social isolation?
Usually around Pride, there is an increased awareness about HIV and other STBBI testing, so it is a good time to have a message to those who have recently tested positive for HIV, reminding them of the importance of getting connected to care as soon as possible; and that there are many resources available, including peers – people with lived experience, who can support those who are newly diagnosed around accessing information, finding resources, connecting them with support services and lending an ear as someone who has experienced the same news of a positive HIV diagnosis. Peers remind someone that they don’t have to go through that on their own.
Why is Pride the right moment in time to highlight the supports available to the PLHIV community?
When I think about folks who have lived with HIV/AIDS for a very long time (long-term survivors), it makes me reflect and think. For many of us, PRIDE is a time to celebrate diversity, celebrate our community(ies), be happy and have fun; but for others – including people living with a chronic illness such as HIV – taking part in the celebrations may not be possible for health reasons; for some it could also be triggering or isolating; and for others it could make them self-conscious about their limitations imposed by their health condition. So, for me doing this work, Pride is a time to reflect and be mindful of those who came before us and paved the way, putting themselves in harm’s ways at times, so we could enjoy the freedom, acceptance, and quality of life we enjoy today.
As a community we need to be reminded, especially during that time, to be kind and take care of one another, just as peers do. Pride Month is also a great opportunity to invite those who are living with HIV and are fortunate enough to be in good health and enjoying some stability in their lives, to consider applying to become a peer worker and contribute to their community by utilizing their lived experience to support others. I can personally attest that peer work is very empowering. It also brings a lot of satisfaction, and is a great opportunity for personal growth.
How can people learn more about the program and/or apply to become a peer?
Casey House’s structured program builds peer capacity to support clients and provides opportunities for peers to debrief and reflect on their work with clients. Peers are paid an honorarium for their work, and attention is also paid to their own health and wellness. For those who feel they can use their lived experience to help others, consider joining a peer program and giving back to the community. To learn more about the Peer Program and/or apply to be a peer at Casey House, visit https://caseyhouse.ca/our-approach/integrating-lived-experience/peer-support.
Casey House offers a variety of patient programs for folks of all backgrounds. For a 2023 calendar, visit caseyhouse.ca/our-health-services/outpatient-day-health.