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These nurses are making sure Baltimore-area HIV patients have the medications they need during the pandemic

Ebony Beckles, left, and Heidi Whiting, Medication Support Team adherence nurses at Chase Brexton Health Care, continue to connect and care for their HIV patients despite the challenges presented by COVID-19. June 11, 2020
Ebony Beckles, left, and Heidi Whiting, Medication Support Team adherence nurses at Chase Brexton Health Care, continue to connect and care for their HIV patients despite the challenges presented by COVID-19. June 11, 2020 (Amy Davis)

Tyrell Martin knows that COVID-19 can be potentially deadly with his HIV positive status. But he is confident in staying healthy amid the pandemic.

In fact, the 28-year-old has never felt better. He is undetectable and adheres to his medication regime. And he feels empowered by nurses Ebony Beckles and Heidi Whiting, members of the Medication Support Team at Chase Brexton Health Care.

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The pair regularly check on him by phone. They make sure he has an adequate amount of medication so that he doesn’t have to leave his Park Heights home as often to pick up his prescriptions.

“With my immune system, I’m more susceptible to getting sick and we don’t want that to happen,” said Martin, who tested positive for HIV eight years ago.

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Martin stopped taking his medication twice because of depression. But with the help of the Medication Support Team, he’s healthy and back track.

“If I have a question about the side effects of one of my medications, I can call Ebony,” Martin said. “We talk about my health journey and my personal life. It makes me want to do that much better. It drives me to take my medication every day.”

It already was difficult to get their HIV-positive patients to adhere to their medication regimen, but COVID-19 has made the work of Beckles and Whiting that much more difficult.

Most of their clients are following stay-at-home precautions, said Beckles, a registered nurse who has been working with the 16-year-old program for the past three years.

As a result, that means Beckles and Whiting have to me more aggressive to maintain communication with their patients. They work with mail-order pharmacists and send larger amounts of medications to their patients, so they don’t have the leave the house as often. In some cases they have to contact family members of patients in order to check on them — they even send letters to patients and their family members to remind them of appointments and other important dates.

“I have a lot of patients who aren’t coming in as much as they should because they are scared,” Whiting said. “They need that eye on them... Some of them don’t have working phones. Unless they show up, I am working blind. It is hard to treat a person who you haven’t seen in a while.”

She added: “The reality of many of these people is that they would die from complications from AIDS or they would die for their comorbidity. They would probably pass away from their complications."

Patients see Beckles and Whiting more than they see their primary care providers, Beckles said.

In addition to HIV, the program also provides assistance for whatever other aliments the patient might have, whether a sexual transmitted illness, high blood pressure, pneumonia or depression.

“It feels like I’m at home. They are very familiar to me,” said Martin, adding that the two have been even more diligent in communicating with him during the pandemic. “It shows me that they actually care and they work with me to make sure I’m healthy.”

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