Earlier this month, Sanctum celebrated its one-year anniversary. The 10-bed hospice and transitional care home provides care to people living with HIV who require specialized assistance in managing their symptoms due to homelessness, poverty, addictions and/or mental health issues. The hospice offers three types of care – supportive, palliative and respite – for a period of two weeks (respite) to three months (supportive).
Ian was one of the first of 36 clients who Sanctum has cared for since opening its doors on November 3, 2015.
Sanctum opened in 2015.
Ian – finding solace at Sanctum
When Ian arrived at Sanctum, his 100-pound skeletal frame had been ravaged by untreated HIV and a chronic lung condition.
At only 27 years of age, he was homeless, addicted to drugs and categorized as having end-stage HIV – his viral load (the amount of HVI in his blood) was nearly 500,000 because he was not taking any anti-retroviral treatment, and his body was not fighting HIV well. When taken every day, anti-retroviral medicine can help people living with HIV live longer, healthier lives and reduce their risk of transmitting HIV by getting their viral load down to undetectable levels (under 75).
“Ian had no medical or social supports to help him navigate through the growing complexities of his declining health,” says Katelyn Roberts, Sanctum’s executive director. “Our mandate of compassionate, non-judgmental, patient-centred care fit every aspect of Ian’s healthcare needs, but we were doubtful that he’d remain at Sanctum long enough to enjoy the benefits that engagement and stability can bring.”
Ian came to Sanctum reluctantly, clearly stating to anyone who would listen that he wouldn’t be staying. But once he figured out that Sanctum was there to provide support, and that no matter what he had a warm bed, three meals a day, and friends and staff who cared about his physical and mental health, he stayed for the full three months.
“I was happy to be at Sanctum,” says Ian. “It was the first place I haven’t wanted to run away from in my life because the staff cared about me.”
Ian’s initial goals when he moved into Sanctum were to get dentures and to improve his health.
“In three short months, he did so much more,” Roberts says, explaining that he not only got his dental work done but also secured a family doctor, an infectious disease specialist and an HIV case manager. He started on anti-retroviral therapy, which has allowed him to achieve a nearly undetectable viral load (under 75 as compared to 500,000). He also entered into outpatient treatment, stopped using drugs, secured permanent housing and got his children back from foster care.
“He exceeded all of our expectations,” says Roberts. “He taught us how love, caring and acceptance can help even the most fragile become strong.”
Paying it forward
Ian can often be seen at Sanctum but now it’s as a peer mentor.
He is one of three mentors who meet with the residents at Sanctum every Tuesday and Thursday, or one-on-one when required.
When meeting with the residents, he discusses a variety of topics with them from coping mechanisms to addiction, diagnosis/fear of abandonment, medication, breaking the cycle of use and abuse, transitioning out of Sanctum, helpful resources in the community, how art can provide healing, family matters, and grief and dying, among other topics.
“My mom always told me to do the right thing, and this is the right thing to do,” says Ian. “I wanted to help people that were positive like me. Sanctum helped me see a better life besides gang life. My mom would have liked that, she would love it if she could see me now.”
Roberts says the purpose of having former residents like Ian act as peer mentors is to empower the HIV-positive community to develop their own supports and strategies in dealing with the complex issues associated with HIV.
“Individuals living with HIV are experts in this disease, including the barriers and challenges associated with it,” explains Roberts. “Sanctum allows individuals like Ian who are actively involved in their health and well-being to work with others who want to engage in their own health care through support, encouragement and practical advice.”
One of the rooms at Sanctum.
Sanctum – one year later
Since opening its doors, Sanctum has cared for 36 clients.
At their time of arrival, 50 per cent of clients were homeless (no fixed address) and more than 20 per cent had unstable housing. With the support of Sanctum’s care and housing coordinator, Suzi Mitchell, nearly 50 per cent acquired stable housing at discharge.
“Having stable housing not only increases quality of life for people living with HIV but also ensures better medication adherence, resulting in improved overall health and well-being for residents who transition out of Sanctum,” Mitchell says, adding that the people who come to Sanctum are the most at-risk for not taking their treatment, for transmitting HIV and for experiencing an HIV-related death.
“The holistic approach to care that Sanctum provides allows us to address the entire person – their substance misuse, mental illness and lack of housing – not just their disease,” she explains.
By addressing the medical and psycho-social-environmental factors that contribute to HIV in Saskatoon, Sanctum is providing another option to those most in need of this type of holistic, supportive service, and will in turn, benefit the community at large. When people living with HIV are able to get their viral load down to undetectable levels, it reduces the rate of HIV transmission in the community.