By Katie Klingsporn
The Children’s Hospital Immunodeficiency Program (CHIP), which operates under the umbrella of the nonprofit Children’s Hospital Colorado in Denver, has been the sole provider of specialized care for infants, children, adolescents and pregnant women with HIV infection in the Rocky Mountain region since its inception 24 years ago.
CHIP offers everything from clinical care to mental health services and prevention programs. It facilitates testing, helps patients find insurance plans and works with outside hospitals to track HIV-positive women through their pregnancies.
CHIP goes beyond the traditional definition of healthcare as well. In an effort to mitigate barriers to care, CHIP will do everything from helping patients pay for medication not covered by insurance to providing transportation and assisting with an electric bill. These kinds of services fall outside of the limitations of traditional nonprofit funding. But thanks to the Telluride AIDS Benefit, CHIP can make them happen.
“Some of the most important things aren’t often covered by insurance or federal grants,” said Daniel Reirden, medical director for the youth program at CHIP. “Being a recipient of funds from TAB helps us meet the need of all of our clients, whether it’s helping with a co-pay for prescription or helping them with rent... so we can at least help to focus their attention on their health and not be deterred by other barriers in their lives.”
For an organization that relies largely on federal grants, he said, the freedom that comes with the TAB funding is huge – CHIP sets aside the contributions in a fund it uses to patch holes in health care, provide emergency financial assistance and create structural support outside of the clinical setting.
“It’s extremely important because it allows us to use funds in a less restricted way,” he said.
CHIP served about 300 patients and their families last year. Clients come from Colorado as well as rural states like Wyoming, Nebraska, Montana and the Dakotas, and range from young adults who have contracted the disease to HIV-positive pregnant women and children who were born with HIV. The majority of CHIP patients live below the federal poverty level.
When it was launched in 1991, much of CHIP’s focus was on providing pediatric care to treat HIV-infected infants. But its care has evolved in parallel with developments in treatment and patterns of transmission.
And it’s seen some triumphs. Case in point: There have been no mother-to-child HIV transmissions in over a decade among women, enrolled in CHIP, through the provision of perinatal and antenatal care.
“Once there was evidence that medical intervention during labor and delivery could significantly reduce the number of children infected, CHIP began to get involved in managing pregnant women’s care across Colorado and the Rocky Mountain region,” Reirden said.
However, CHIP has seen an increase in the number of adolescent clients who have acquired HIV through sexual activity or drug use. In response, the organization has grown a robust facility for patients ages 13-24 that provides comprehensive and culturally proficient wrap-around care.
CHIP’s approach is multi-disciplinary – the facility staffs physicians and social workers, community prevention specialists and employees who are dedicated to linking newly diagnosed patients with the care they need and helping them navigate the world of healthcare. CHIP also maintains ongoing relationships with past patients in an effort to make sure nobody falls from care and through the cracks.
The organization works with HIV-infected women throughout their pregnancies, follows their infants for two years and sends the mothers to adult care. It also offers risk-reduction counseling and outreach and works with a network of community providers to offer testing across the region – including in Telluride.
CHIP gets many of its patients from referrals, but also works closely with state and county health departments to find patients.
“We do have a proactive policy,” Reirden said.
The mission that propels the organization, he added, is to improve the health and quality of life for youth and families affected by the disease. And TAB plays a big part in bringing that to bear.
“We feel so fortunate to be a recipient of TAB’s generosity,” Reirden said. “It really allows us to continue to do the work that we do, and do more than is usually available in a health care setting.”