Page 36 - Healthcare News SepOct 2021
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 that there are treatments that were effective, and helping them to communicate with their physican or medical provider as to what their concerns were and how their lives worked in terms of some of the stigmas associated with it and being able to talk to loved ones about their new status.
“That was really challenging for some,” he went on. “And so, case management at that time was a very hands-on thing; we made a great difference in the lives of those who were living with HIV, but equally so those who were unaware of how it was transmitted, and what prevention methods could be deployed by them, and that it was OK to have dinner with someone who was living with HIV, as opposed to some of the rumors, stories, or myths that they’d heard.”
Elaborating, he said that, for many, substance use and HIV went hand-in-hand, and efforts focused
on helping people find recovery through detox and treatment facilities and helping these individuals understand that it was OK to live substance-free and face and confront some of their challenges involved with having a diagnosis that was highly stigmatized.
In 2010, he assumed that same title — director of Counseling and Testing Prevention and Education Services — with the New North Citizens Council, and has been continuing that challenging but needed work to counsel those in need and help with the medical and social aspects of HIV, sexually transmitted diseases, and substance abuse, while connecting people with healthcare providers.
“We’ve been very fortunate to have built
relationships with medical providers that lend themselves to understanding that when we have an individual, that service, that treatment, needs to be provided, and they’re willing to provide it,” he said, listing Baystate Medical Center, Mercy Medical Center, and the Caring Health Center among the providers he and his team work with.
Over the years, Johnson has become involved with a number of community groups, boards, and commissions, including the Mason Square C-3 Initiative, the Massachusetts Integrated Planning Prevention Committee, Baystate Health’s Mason Square Neighborhood Health Center Community Advisory Board, the Baystate Health Community Benefits Advisory Council, and the Springfield Food Policy Committee.
As noted earlier, COVID has added new layers to the work and the mission for Johnson and his team. While helping individuals and families cope with what would be considered everyday matters, there is also a once-in-a-century pandemic to contend with.
Work to distribute PPE and other needed items, from masks to hand sanitizer, socks to toothpaste, goes on, said Johnson. “We still go about daily and provide PPE to people who are on the margins and often don’t have ready access to such items.”
Critical work on vaccination goes on as well, and comes in many forms, from education to dispel myths and misinformation to getting shots in arms. He mentioned a clinic at the drop-in center the day before he talked with BusinessWest/Healthcare News, at which nine people received their second
shot and two more got their first.
“Vaccination has been a challenge because there
is a lot of information out there, and not all of it is accurate,” he explained. “There’s a significant amount of resistance based on information that individuals have received, so it’s really about re-educating people and helping them achieve a level of comfort receiving new information. As great and wonderful as the
 internet and social media are, sometimes it doesn’t provide both sides of a story.”
Bottom Line
Helping individuals and families achieve a needed level of comfort with many aspects of their lives — from living
with HIV to battling substance abuse — has long been the best way to describe Johnson’s work and his commitment to the community.
“Vaccination has been a challenge because there is a lot of information out there, and not all of ”it is accurate.
As we noted that at the top,
he fully understands just how
hard it is to seek help. And that’s why it’s been his mission to be there for those who find the strength and fortitude to take that step.
His unwavering commitment to that mission has made him a Healthcare Hero. n
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           A18 OCTOBER 2021

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