Prof Sharon LewinThe iconic Fairfield House at The Alfred is being “redesigned” to respond to the changing needs of people living with HIV/AIDS, according to Professor Sharon Lewin, who described the move as a “good news” story despite the announcement being met with strong criticism from sectors of the HIV community.

The highly respected HIV/AIDS researcher Lewin spoke to the Star Observer from California to explain the changes. She acknowledged any change to Fairfield House may be met with skepticism or even resistance.

“I know how important Fairfield House has been to so many patients in Victoria. It is an important place. An important name. This is because of the exceptional clinicians and nurses and many people who have worked in the HIV sector in Victoria. I really understand it is an emotional time,” Lewin said.

That resistance has come from the president of the Victorian AIDS Council Michael Williams, who believes the realignment at Fairfield House is a bad idea.

“The Victorian AIDS Council/Gay Men Health Centre’ strongly opposes the closure of Fairfield House. As the main community provider of HIV support services, VAC/GMHC was not consulted about these drastic changes and does not agree to what is being proposed,” Williams said.

“The health of people living with HIV will be severely compromised because this vital service provides care and treatment to people with complex AIDS-defining illnesses and other conditions. It restores their health and wellbeing.

“The Alfred receives a huge HIV grant from the State government to run Fairfield House and other HIV services, and providing four beds and a few nurses for outreach will be no substitute for a dedicated facility. The demand will simply get shifted onto the community sector when the Alfred is already generously funded to undertake the work.”

But Dr Lewin disagrees with VAC’s take on it, explaining there has been falling demand for inpatient beds, arguing those who do need them have more complex care requirements and often need multiple specialists to oversee care.

“By having those inpatients in Ward 7 West we can much better respond to their needs,” she explained, indicating the physical separation of Fairfield House is now an impediment to the best access to care and specialists.

“We have been providing less and less palliative care at Fairfield House over the last decade as fewer people are dying from HIV. More recently Fairfield House has been managing people with multiple illnesses, such as people with psychiatric illnesses, or malignancy or chemotherapy, which in many ways is far better managed in the main hospital.

“It is quite logistically difficult moving people backwards and forwards. This will allow us to use Fairfield House far more in an outpatient setting.”

Dr Lewin argued patients have supported a shift towards community care.

“Most people want to be in the community and not be in hospitals. With advances in anti-HIV treatment there is a big shift to the right care in the community. So we will expand outpatient services in Fairfield House,” Lewin said.

A spokesperson for Alfred Health also rejected that there will be a lack of beds saying that in fact under the new arrangement there will be increasing the overall beds at the Alfred plus opening a new elective admissions ward in January 2014.

Writing exclusively for the Star Observer Victorian Health Minister David Davis makes it clear that the GLBTI community are at at the forefront of his policy making decisions saying “Stigma remains one of the most important barriers to living full lives and to effective public health action and “HIV/AIDS is a significant issue for the GLBTI community and as such it is also a focus of the Government.” Read the full opinion piece here.



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