May 11, 2011
The Regent Park Community Health Center in Toronto helps patients infected with hepatitis C virus (HCV) prepare for or complete treatment. The facility offers a wide range of services, from assistance with housing and disability benefits to legal counsel.
"Anything we can deal with upfront, we do," said Laura Hanson, a registered nurse at Regent Park. "We have really strong, strong interdisciplinary teams. Nurses, coordinators, family doctors, specialists ... and clients get support from their groups, too," said RN Emily Cooper. A typical patient support group includes between 15 and 20 people meeting for 16 weekly sessions.
Regent Park staff measure success in part by the number of patients who remain in the support program. "Most of them do," said Cooper. "Week after week. And the treatment is no walk in the park. So we're pretty sure the program's working."
HCV treatment usually takes from six to 12 months. Treatment side effects are mental and physical, and can include flu-like symptoms, muscle aches, rashes, and thinning of the hair. "Psychologically, I've heard it called like going from an acoustic to an electric guitar," noted Cooper. "It'll amplify anything that's already there. It's very intense."
Most of Regent Park's clients contracted HCV through drug use. "It's spread by blood-to-blood contact, so either it's shared injection equipment or crack stems. ... Some people aren't even sure how they got it."
Toronto "is relatively on the right track" in its approach to substance abuse, said Cooper. "Access to safer supplies would be a good thing," she said, adding, "It's important to get the word out that hepatitis C is preventable."
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