Almost thirty 30 years ago, individuals diagnosed with HIV were given bleak predictions with regard to lifespan, quality of life and their ability to co-exist with others who were HIV-free. Rampant homophobia, fear, discrimination and isolation were common obstacles that had to be fought in addition to the disease.
Today, while a cure has not been found (yet), the stigma of HIV has lessened and the life expectancy of People Living with HIV (PLWH) can be as long as other non-infected populations.
But there are still obstacles with regard to making sure PLWH have access to healthcare and other services that help improve or maintain a healthy lifestyle.
The Community College of Denver’s (CCD’s) Hayes Colburn knows what it’s like to be in search of affordable care and other services many take for granted.
“I was diagnosed with HIV several years ago, but I was also unemployed and had difficulty finding affordable or even free dental, vision and medical care while simultaneously trying to stay healthy,” he says.
His personal history is what has motivated him to become involved and help others who may be facing the same challenges.
Colburn, who works in CCD’s Center for Health Sciences at Lowry, is a passionate advocate for HIV-related healthcare causes and has also drawn the attention of Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, who appointed him to a three-year term on the board of the Denver HIV Resource Planning Council (DHRPC).
The DHRPC sets priorities for the services most needed in the Denver Transitional Grant Area (Adams, Arapahoe, Broomfield, Denver, Douglas and Jefferson counties), decides how much of Colorado’s Ryan White Funding should be used for each of these services (resource allocation), and develops a plan to provide these services (comprehensive plan). These decisions are based on an evaluation of the needs of people living with HIV (needs assessment). The Council also evaluates the administrative efficiency of the allocation of funds.
The Ryan White Act provides federal dollars to improve the availability of care for low-income, uninsured and under-insured people living with HIV/AIDS and their families. It is also designed to make sure proper education is distributed and persons fighting the disease are connected to the medical and dental services available to them.
CCD’s dental hygiene clinic was established in 1994 to provide training and education for dental hygiene students. The clinic provides dental care for the community and now, thanks to funding from Ryan White, provides free cleanings and dental care for people living with HIV. CCD also partners with Howard Dental Center (HDC), one of Denver’s largest HIV dental care providers to provide learning experiences for the dental hygiene students.
“The need is so great that they refer patients to CCD’s clinic to provide cleanings and other services,” Colburn says.
In addition to cleanings, the CCD clinic also provides fillings, extractions, and other general dentistry work with a keen knowledge of the unique issues and needs of persons with HIV.
David Zamboni, a dental hygienist at Howard Dental and a CCD alum (he received his credentials as a Registered Dental Hygienist in 1998), is the liaison between HDC and the CCD clinic. Reese Ritter, also a CCD alum, works there as well.
“I’ve referred over 15 patients to CCD in the last year,” he says. “I’ve had students cycle through this program over the years and they’re all so well-educated, well-prepared and well-trained that I know they’ll receive quality, compassionate care when I send them there. It’s an excellent partnership.”
That partnership mirrors the types of coalitions and grassroots activities Colburn thrives on and strives to create. For example, he also regularly participates in the annual seven-day AIDS/LifeCycle Ride to End AIDS in California to raise money and awareness in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
“I just try to give back a little of the support I received when I needed it most,” he says.
The clinic is located on CCD’s Lowry campus and to make an appointment for a dental care, contact the scheduling 303.365.8338.