Harlem World Magazine talked to Dr. Patricia Ogilvie an in-house doctor at St. Mary’s Center regarding the World AIDS Day commemorative service on December 1st at the Church in Harlem. The event was officiated by Rev. Earl Kooperkamp who discussed the theme of Act Aware during the ceremony.
Harlem World: What is the mission of St. Mary’s Center?
Dr. Patricia Ogilvie: St. Mary’s Center is a community-based organization that was founded in 1992 to serve people living with HIV/AIDS. We have a skilled nursing facility, and Adult Day Health Care program and primary care, all for HIV positives.
HW: Why was it important for St. Mary’s Center have a World AIDS Day event?
DPO: The event to commemorates all those who have struggled and suffered with the virus, as well as to recognize the great accomplishments that have been made in treating the disease.
HW: What was the theme of the event?
DPO: The theme of the World AIDS Day event, held on December 1, 2010, was “Act Aware.” This means to be cognizant of those who passed away before there was successful treatment. It also refers to the need for all of us to know our HIV status. The CDC recommends that everyone from 18 to 64 years old be tested for HIV, as a routine matter, like checking your cholesterol. When people are aware that they are HIV positive, they can change their behavior to avoid infecting others and to preserve their own health. Unfortunately, the HIV epidemic has affected communities of people living in poverty and people of color disproportionately. Many Harlem residents have been affected by the disease, being infected themselves or their family members being infected, so we need to do everything we can to decrease its tragic impact.
HW: During the ceremony there was a reading of the names of friends and family who have passed from the disease, why do you think that was important?
DPO: Reading the names is a traditional way of remembering the ones who have passed on and paying tribute to their struggles.
HW: As an in-house doctor at St. Mary’s, what do you do?
DPO: So many interesting things go on at St. Mary’s! I am board-certified in Internal Medicine but I do many more activities relating to the overall well-being of our clients. As part of the Adult Day Health care program, I see the clients once a month, run educational groups about different health-related issues and act as a liaison to their primary care providers in other institutions. Some of the clients come to me for primary care and that is what I take very seriously. Not only do I help them have good adherence to their HIV medicines, I try to get them worked up for their other health problems and have them do the health maintenance exams that are appropriate for their age, such as mammograms and colonoscopies. I really get to know each patient as a whole person. I will do whatever it takes to get them the care they need. I have even escorted patients to their outside specialist appointments, to make sure the other doctor understands their history and our concerns. All of our primary care patients are enrolled in Amida Care, a special needs plan under Medicaid (a kind of HMO just for people who are HIV positive). It is very rewarding to see people grow to understand more about their health conditions and improve their health, as measured by their lab results as well as their self-reported feelings of well being. Of course I work as part of an interdisciplinary team, including professionals in social work, nursing, substance abuse counseling, nutrition, physical therapy, recreational therapy and acupuncture. Our clients are from a wide variety of backgrounds, by race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation and disability. Together we form a supportive community that helps each one strive to improve physically, mentally and spiritually. This diversity makes St. Mary’s a wonderful place to be, as an employee or as a client!
HW: Allot of money has been raised for AIDS prevention, events across the country are happening to bring awareness, Harlem World and Teachers College have partnered to create a Harlem AIDS Blanket project here in Harlem. How close are we to tackling the AIDS epidemic?
DPO: There are many different institutions and individuals working hard and tackling HIV disease already. The most important thing I would like your audience to know is that HIV is no longer an automatic death sentence. HIV is a chronic disease which can be controlled. Even patients who have advanced to the point of having AIDS can take their medications (often referred to as a cocktail because you need at least three medications to be taken together), and have their labs improve to the point where they look and feel healthy and even have a normal life expectancy. That’s why World AIDS Day is more than a sad commemoration, it is an optimistic celebration of life for people living with HIV/AIDS.
HW: If you were Queen of the world, what would you give it for the holidays?
DPO: I would want antiretroviral (for HIV) medicines for everyone in the world who needs them, and clean water to swallow them with!
HW: Thank you, happy holidays.
DPO: Thanks for this opportunity. Happy holidays to everyone.
St. Thomas Church is located at 526 West 126th Street (between Amsterdam Avenue and Old Broadway).