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A Tribute to Debbie Reynolds

Dear Community Members,

It is with great sadness that I inform you of the passing of Debbie Reynolds. Debbie was a true advocate for individuals living with and affected by HIV and AIDS. After her brother tested positive for HIV early on in the epidemic Debbie got involved and became a founding member of the NH HIV Prevention Planning Group and then through her work at Creative Classrooms went on to become the logistics provider for the group. Through her work in HIV/AIDS advocacy and at Creative Classrooms Debbie oversaw the merger of the HIV Prevention and HIV CARE Services Committees in NH to become one of the first integrated HIV prevention and care groups in the country and ultimately helped shape the structure of the HIV Planning Group (HPG) that is in place today. Debbie’s work in our state has helped improve the quality of life for many individuals in our communities and her friendly smile and can do attitude will be sorely missed.

Debbie’s obituary can be visited by clicking here.


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Remembering Robert LaChance

“I have had the privilege of serving on the CPG with Robert as well as working with him at the Nashua Public Health Department, before he joined the HIV Program at the NH State Health Department.  The memory that makes me smile the most when I think of Robert occurred during his time at the Nashua Health Department.  One Friday, after a challenging 8-9 hour day, I finally hung up the phone, gathered my purse and coat, turned off the office lights, and opened the door into the first floor hallway, hurrying to exit the building and get to my car.  At the exact moment I stepped into the hallway however, Robert was across from me, exiting the men’s bathroom.  Robert not only surprised me as I thought everyone else had gone home, he stunned me.  He was wearing a very beautiful, form fitting glittery evening gown with matching heels.  His makeup was applied flawlessly, showing off his beautiful eyes to perfection and his lipstick was the perfect shade to go with his gown.  His hair was coiffed in a style most becoming to his figure and style of dress.  Frankly, he looked better than I ever could in a similar outfit and walked better in those heels than I ever could.  He sauntered out of the bathroom, smiling and saying “Hi” as though there was nothing unusual about his appearance.  I managed to say “Hi” and within seconds recovered enough to ask him if there was anything he wanted to tell me.  I knew him as a proud gay man, but not as someone who preferred women’s clothing or identified as transgender.  Deadpan, he said “about what?”, then laughed the great laugh he had when truly amused.  He said the look on my face was priceless and went on to explain that he too was running late and decided to dress up before leaving as he was performing in Manchester in drag.  I have to say, he made quite the queen and I teased him for weeks about being prettier than anyone else who worked at the Health Department.  Robert’s sense of humor was awesome; always able to take a ribbing just as well as he could dish it out.  Robert was a very class act and I will miss him!” Lynne Weihrauch,  Nurse Practitioner (retired), DHMC

“I have known Robert for many years. We met here at the Nashua Health Department when he was volunteering in our HIV clinic. Robert had a great laugh and was very dedicated to prevention work in HIV. My fondest memory of Robert was spent with him outside of work. He loved to do landscaping. He in fact did the landscaping around my home. I remember him holding up his muddy hands and just loving it! There is a giant Hosta that Robert planted that is almost like an alien from another planet. I will always be reminded of his joy doing this work and the joy he had in doing prevention work in the field of HIV.  I told my great niece about Robert and she drew this picture that I would like to have included in the memorial. I am also including a picture of the monster plant. I have three of these babies around my home. I will always have a piece of Robert with me in his work.”Bobbie Bagley, Director, Public Health & Community Services

“Robert was a funny guy. He took his role at the State very seriously and would try to always be very professional and appropriate. Sometimes however, we would see a glimpse of the “true” Robert, especially when we had Community Planning Group retreats. I remember one particular occasion that we had prizes and Robert got a plastic pull string helicopter toy and he spent the evening shooting those plastic discs all over the place, including my hair. His laugh was contagious and we all had a grand time.” – Wendy LeBlanc, Vice President, Southern NH HIV/AIDS Task Force

“Robert was a part of my professional career in HIV/AIDS prevention from the start. He was my mentor, my guide, and my prevention contract support at the State of New Hampshire. Over the years, I worked with Robert on the Community Planning Group as well. I got to see many different sides of him. Although always professional, he relaxed a bit in his community work. He had a wonderful sense of humor. He was authentic and honest about himself, his perceptions, and feelings. One thing I remember Robert sharing was that he was NOT a touchy feely, or “huggy” person. He would scrunch up his face as he announced this, like hugging was grosser than a pail of creepy spiders. In between this standoffish front he projected, you could see a depth in his heart. He was very compassionate and sensitive to others. He was very committed to others feeling welcomed, safe, and included. You did not have to hug Robert to feel close to him, and to feel connected with him. He moved through this world focused on the people around him, the community he lived in, and what needed to be done to make others feel better, and communities work better for the health of all. Somehow, the world seems a bit colder now that I know he is no longer out there, among us. But, I know Robert would have none of that kind of thinking. He would remind me that I am still here, and we are still here, and we should stop this touchy feely crap and get to work.

I hope there is skiing where your spirit is, Robert. The mountains are high and white with perfectly packed snow and the lift ticket is for eternity. The air is crisp, but you are never cold and you are surrounded by love and laughter, as you have freely given all of us back here. I will remember you as you look in this picture. Smiling, the sun on your face, and always ready to share a good time. Peace be with you, Robert, and thank you.” Jean Adie, Outreach Specialist, DHMC

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PrEP Line Bling

After a few weeks of texting, Oliver stopped answering my messages. I took the hint and accepted that the conversation was on hold, at least for now. I didn’t take it personally, but I did find myself concerned. Oliver had first responded to an ad I placed on Craigslist with some concerns of his own. They were questions that I was excited to help him work through. He wanted to know how he could start taking PrEP while on his parents’ insurance. Starting PrEP under these circumstances can be an uphill battle for some, but it didn’t have to be.

PrEP (or pre-exposure prophylaxis) involves an HIV-negative person taking a pill once-a-day to lower their risk of contracting the virus. In certain pockets of the country, PrEP has been credited with reducing the number of new HIV infections. But in the 5 years after PrEP was approved by the Food and Drug Administration, the number of new diagnoses in New Hampshire has remained stubbornly stable. PrEP is safe and effective, but massively underutilized right in the middle of multiple STI outbreaks and the HIV risk we know this represents.

We started Granite State PrEP Connect last summer to help unlock the potential of PrEP in our state. We wanted more people in New Hampshire to get the facts and support they need to live their healthiest lives. Sometimes that fact is just the knowledge that PrEP exists, that it’s covered by insurance, Medicare and Medicaid, that any medical provider with a prescription pad can get you started. Since launching, over 100 Granite Staters have connected with the project and I’ve personally counseled almost 50 individuals on PrEP. Four have started care but dozens more have gotten linked to other crucial services from STI and HIV testing referrals to information about payment assistance. It’s an accomplishment we’re proud of, but there is more to be done, especially for the most vulnerable among us.

For Oliver (whose name has been changed here for privacy), he first wanted to know where he could get free condoms and testing for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. From there, I assured him there were options to access PrEP confidentially if that was his concern. He grabbed those condoms, he said he found the clinic I recommended that offering free testing, and then, nothing. My colleague at the health department said nobody stopped by matching Oliver’s description or mentioning our project.

I knew things would be okay regardless of how Oliver’s HIV test result might have turned out. If it came back positive, Oliver could start on any number of treatments able to reduce the amount of virus in his blood to undetectable levels. If the test came back negative as Oliver was expecting, there would be more good news there as well. Oliver would have variety of options to stay HIV-negative. Condoms, of course, are always on the table for the taking if he wanted; that hasn’t changed. Newer to the scene, though, PrEP and an open line to help make that a reality would also be within reach. Even if Oliver were able to access these services without my knowing, both experience and the numbers tell me that Oliver might have a harder time accessing PrEP than some other Granite Staters with whom I’ve worked.

Youth are among the most disproportionally affected by HIV nationwide, accounting for over one in five of our country’s new infections. They are less likely to know their HIV status and face special challenges in accessing preventative services like PrEP. Oliver is not yet 25 years old and thus fits comfortably in this category of heightened vulnerability. The recently published 5-year summary report from the New Hampshire STD/HIV Surveillance Program suggests this risk is not equally spread across the state. We know that people in southern counties and men who have sex with men carry the greatest burden, but zoom in closer for a clearer view of the picture these numbers paint. In 2016, the rate of infection in Black New Hampshire residents was over 10 times that of the overall rate. The rate was over 4 times greater among those identifying as Hispanic.

Inequities like these are not based on our biology but rather baked into our social fabric. The burdens of medical mistrust, traveling large distance to providers, and having to navigate a complicated insurance system to get covered weighs far more heavily on some us than others. The question then becomes how do we, as a community, leverage the tools we have to better care for those most affected by HIV in the Granite State? People are still getting left behind somewhere between risk and risk reduction. Those on the front lines of the epidemic must be armed with this information about the latest and greatest in HIV prevention.

I consider it a privilege to run the PrEP Line, to attend my community’s questions and concerns before and after (and sometimes during) class. This service ought to be busier, though, to have more folks calling in and spreading the word. The Granite State PrEP Line is open to all those who would benefit for connecting, from testers to harm reduction workers to public health officials to medical providers of all stripes. Bending the arch of the epidemic toward zero new infections requires collaboration. To do it right, as our name suggests, we need to connect.

There are no easy fixes for the reasons the Granite State HIV diagnosis rate has held so steady in recent years. We can hope and try to best to ensure the Olivers of tomorrow have an easier time making informed decisions about their own health. For now, however, our options aren’t half bad. Among them: PrEP for prevention, treatment that works, and texting a stranger (Hi, I’m Jake!) to take your next step.

Jake Perlson, Founder, Granite State PrEP Connect
MS2, Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth

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World AIDS Day 2017

World AIDS Day, designated on  December 1st every year since 1988, is dedicated to raising awareness of the AIDS pandemic caused by the spread of HIV infection, and mourning those who have died of the disease.

My first World AIDS Day event was in 1991, the year my best friend, Jon, was diagnosed with AIDS. At that time, there was no agency providing services to people with HIV in Nashua, just a support group that met weekly in the local hospital basement run by Public Health nurses who saw the epidemic spreading into our community. Relationships among People Living with HIV/AIDS  (PLWHA) and the affected community were significant,  this was a day-to-day, life and death battle, and we all felt like we were in it together.

In those early days, World AIDS Day events were very well attended. PLWHA and their loved ones, as well as dedicated community professionals, worked together to plan a meaningful commemoration for this one day of the year set aside “just for us”. For many years, the World AIDS Day commemoration took place at City Hall, with the Mayor of Nashua speaking about the disease and offering a proclamation. We had entertainment from local musicians and student groups, as well as thought-provoking films and slideshows.

As the years have gone by and the epidemic has changed so much, so have the World AIDS Day events. We don’t have many people attend anymore, and rarely have more than one or two clients and/or loved ones present. In Nashua, we still hold an open house with refreshments and meaningful activities to reflect on the disease and our losses as well as our progress. We also hold a candlelight vigil where all attendees are invited to read names of those we have lost from our community. For me, this is a moment I treasure each year, because as difficult as it is, it helps me reconnect for a brief moment with each of the lovely souls I have had the pleasure to know and care for over the past 26 years of my life.

HIV/AIDS, for many of our clients, is now just a small component of their lives, not the biggest, scariest, “when am I going to die?” part. This demonstrates the progress we have made in fighting this epidemic, and the change in how the world views HIV/AIDS. Isn’t it wonderful that HIV/AIDS is no longer a terminal disease, that stigma has been reduced (somewhat) and PLWHA can lead happy, healthy and productive lives? Unfortunately, for those of us who have lost loved ones to this disease, it never changes. I think of my best friend Jon daily. I know that his life, battle with AIDS, and his death shaped me and my life significantly. His legacy is my work at the Southern NH HIV/AIDS Task Force and World AIDS Day is my opportunity to publicly remember him and all he was to me.

Please consider attending the World AIDS Day event in your community. Each AIDS Service Organization is holding an open house and will be showing “Etched From Granite, Digital Stories of HIV in New Hampshire”. We would love to spend this special time with you as we remember all those we have lost to this disease and honor those still fighting.

Wendy LeBlanc

Vice President, Southern NH HIV/AIDS Task Force

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Reflections on the HIV Epidemic: One Nurse’s 30 Year View

In 1985 HIV was still called HTLV III and a new blood test was approved to test people with risk factors. You were considered at risk back then if you were a gay male (especially if you were Black or Hispanic or your partners were), if you shared needles for illicit intravenous drug use, if you had a blood transfusion, were a recent immigrant from Haiti, or were born to a mom who had AIDS. There was no medicine to treat this emerging infection and no way to tell how, or if, you were going to get sick. People were scared because they did not understand how the virus was passed from person to person, causing widespread stigmatization.

I like to think that those of us who entered this fight back then were a little like pioneers; not quite sure where the journey would lead us, understood there could be some perils along the way, but knew there was something better just beyond the next horizon. Many of us were personally invested, having had friends who were sick or had died from AIDS. Being in the fight made us feel less helpless, when the only other choice was to passively watch our friends die far too young.

In the years that followed, the word AIDS was replaced with HIV as people began living longer. Testing for HIV antibodies became the foundation of tests, not the end. Medications were slowly FDA approved, but created another fight, for tolerability, availability and affordability. After stories of solid hard-working people being fired from their jobs began to emerge, the government acted and HIV discrimination in the workplace became protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Amendments were passed that made it easier for people living with HIV to meet the definition of disability. HIV infection was no longer just limited to gay men or needle sharing drug users, as women, children and heterosexual males became linked to the epidemic. Minorities, however, continued to be over represented in the epidemic, and slowly HIV infection became more associated with what you did, rather than who you were. It appeared as if our educational efforts were paying off, as most people learned how to protect themselves.

The first wave of people with HIV was largely made up of educated gay men; many who had strong ties to the gay community. Gay and straight friends stepped in to help. Those friends made a lasting impression on me. They would work their full-time job, take a turn caring for a sick friend (with a shift that could last from several hours to all night long), then go back to their jobs the next day and start all over again. Friends brought food, wiped faces, held hands, and listened. They brought the gift of comfort and made sure no one died alone. They were true heroes.

Living with HIV is vastly different today. More people live with HIV than die from it. More people live quality lives as well as quantity. Many people either return to the workforce or never have to leave it, pursuing careers and living independently. Medications are tolerated fairly well by the majority. Medications have been affordable and accessible through private and public insurances, copay assistance from the drug companies, and by state programs using Ryan White funding.

However, even with all these advances, stigma continues to be an enemy as does the increasing opioid epidemic. The newest generation of gay males has not benefited from the experience of those who lived through those early years or the educational efforts of Public Health. Social media hook up sites give the illusion that an online profile means you know everything there is to know about another person, including their HIV status. The Millennial generation may not be the rebels like those of the previous generations, but their mindset of needing to learn through a variety of life experiences makes their calculated risk taking seem worthwhile no matter the consequences. The old education messages are not only ineffective to this generation but the method is as well. Social media is the preferred means of communication and doing it in real time is paramount.

As I leave direct patient care and my career of 30 plus years behind, I worry that those of us who have been doing this for many years have grown complacent and may not be up to the challenges that lie ahead. I told several patients in the last few years that they were living the dream. The dream of those in that first decade, who hoped medications would be discovered that not only extended life but gave back some quality. With this dream came the hope that they could go to school, stay at their jobs, marry or have happy long-term relationships, and have healthy children if they wanted. It felt like the hard work was behind us and it would only get better.

The reality is that though the challenges may be different now, until there is a cure, the fight is not over. There is still much work to be done, and new skills are needed to keep fighting. People are needed who can use social media to reach those at risk. Political voices are needed to make sure the medications we have continue to be affordable to all. Religious and spiritual leaders need to step up and make sure that all men and women are seen as worthy of respect and compassion, and are not judged according to outdated beliefs about race, gender, or sexual identity. It is imperative that we study every aspect of how people perceive pain and deal with life’s challenges. Without this knowledge, it will be impossible to defeat the opioid epidemic, which continues to greatly impact the HIV fight.

I challenge you to do what you can to make a difference. Showcase your skills and get involved. Life is busy but if everyone did just a little, the momentum would propel us to form solutions to current issues. I promise you, your efforts will bring you great satisfaction. One day people will say, “I used to have HIV”, and you will be proud to say that you played a role in history.

– Lynne Weihrauch



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Hello there!

Welcome to NHHPG blog page.

This blog page was set up to be a forum for people to communicate about HIV-related issues. The Advisory Committee of the HPG has developed a protocol for posting to the blog.

Blog Protocol

Who can submit?

Anyone can submit to the HPG Blog.

What can be submitted?

Written pieces that discuss issues that are appropriate and relevant to the HPG mission in New Hampshire, such as, but not limited to, living with HIV/AIDS, HIV medical treatment, HIV prevention, HIV disease, HIV resources/services in New Hampshire for those living with or at risk for HIV/AIDS, HIV news and current events.

How can I submit a piece?

Copy and paste the text of your piece into the section provided on the HPG website. Be sure to fill in all the required contact information and indicate whether you wish your name to appear with the submission or not. If you do not complete contact information and indicate the level of confidentiality you prefer, the piece will not be considered for publication.

What happens when I submit an article to the blog?

The piece will then be reviewed for publication online based on the following criterion:

Confidentiality – there must be no information in the piece that discloses private information and can lead to the identification of a person or persons to whom the information refers.

Citations – All data and statistics must be appropriately noted with the sources from which the information was taken.

Language and Content – The article must use appropriate language to convey the overall message/theme of the piece and must discuss an issue that is related to HIV/AIDS. Written pieces must not use the blog to advertise products or services.

Pieces must be no more than 800 words.

You will be notified via email when/if your blog submission has been accepted for publication. If your submission is not accepted, you will be notified of the reason(s) it was not accepted and you will have the opportunity to resubmit a revised piece at any time. Please be aware that we may not be able to publish every article submitted due to staffing, time and space limitations, but all articles will be considered for publication.

You can submit as many articles as you wish for publication. The denial of one piece does not mean you cannot submit a revised piece and/or a new piece.

Complaints, Compensation, Other issues to know about submitting an article for consideration:

If you feel your piece has not been considered fairly, you can raise your concern to the HPG Advisory Committee by contacting the logistics contractor. The current logistics contractor is Community Health Institute / JSI, 603-573-3306.

Please be aware that authors are not compensated, monetary or otherwise, for articles that are published. This blog is a public service to the residents of New Hampshire and a part of the HPG’s overall mission to plan comprehensive services for both HIV Care and Prevention in New Hampshire.

Again, welcome to the HPG blog.