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CQII congratulates Southeast Mississippi Rural Health Initiative, Inc. (SeMRHI) for their outstanding work around improving their viral suppression rates. CQII is honored to present them with the 2021 Award for Measurable Improvements in HIV Care to Mitigate HIV Disparities.

SeMRHI is a network of federally qualified health centers (FQHCs), which provides integrated primary, HIV, and behavioral health care services for people with HIV in southern Mississippi. With 5 school-based health centers, they provide HIV education, prevention, and testing for youth. “What I’m most proud of are the patients,” said Tonya Green, the Director of Social Services and Ryan White Program Coordinator at SeMRHI’s Hattiesburg Family Health Center. “I’m really proud of their willingness to get into care and being proactive in their health care despite all of the stigma. We could not do what we do without these young patients being engaged, open-minded, and trustworthy of us in this journey they’re going through.”

SeMRHI participated in CQII’s past two collaboratives (end+disparities Collaborative and create+equity Collaborative) and used data-driven quality improvement techniques to identify youth who are not virally suppressed or have missed appointments. Medical case managers used a patient checklist to identify and address barriers to antiretroviral therapy (ART) and medical care adherence. ‘Health literacy illustration’ tools were used to visually help youth understand the effects of ART on viral suppression rates. SeMRHI’s goals of this intervention included to improve youth outreach, especially to those who were not virally suppressed; identify barriers to care and make appropriate referrals; increase health literacy; manage mental and substance use issues affecting youth; and ensure consistent follow-up on missed appointments.

This intervention was successful in improving viral suppression rates for youth, defined as ages 13 through 24. Over a 12-month period from July 2018 to June 2019, viral suppression rates for youth increased from 58% to 78%. The viral suppression rates for youth continue to be sustained at rates at or above 75%. As of April 2021, the current viral suppression rate for youth ages 13-24 was 77%. As a result of this intervention’s success, it has now been implemented for patients of all ages, not exclusively for youth patients.

This is not to say that SeMRHI did not face any challenges along the way. COVID-19 brought about unprecedented barriers to the work they do. “COVID-19 really mirrors HIV,” reflected Tonya. “The treatment and the guidelines were constantly changing, just like when HIV came out. The greatest challenge was having to wrap our head around what is COVID-19 and how we can educate our patients on ongoing safety measures.” Through the pandemic, SeMRHI succeeded in introducing a virtual consumer advisory board and through this, they were able to provide patients with peer support and education about COVID-19.

Some words of wisdom Tonya gives for other providers is to find your niche. “If you could do something for free for the rest of your life that makes you happy, that is your passion,” emphasized Tonya. “My passion is in HIV care, and I really love what I do.”

Southeast Mississippi Rural Health Initiative, Inc. (SeMRHI)
Tonya Green, Director of Social Services
Email: tgreen@semrhi.com
Phone: 601-582-2619

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