After offering 16 years of providing quality care to homeless persons living with HIV (PLHIV), the end came yesterday for the Elroy Phillips Centre when it officially closed its Lower Black Rock, Lazaretto location.

Past and present staff of the Centre, Ministry of Health staff and residents came together yesterday afternoon to mark the occasion, after Cabinet last week disclosed its decision to close the Centre, effective March 31, as part of the Ministry of Health’s policy of moving from residential care to community living.

Acting Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Elizabeth Ferdinand, noted that consideration was given not only to the revised definition of HIV from a terminal illness to that of a chronic disease, but improvements in the treatment of persons living with the virus. ??

She underlined that the Centre was designed to provide a "safe haven" for many residents whose families at the time knew very little about the HIV or AIDS.?? This fear drove them to abandon relatives infected with HIV.?? "Things are different now," Dr. Ferdinand emphasised.

"With improvements in access to Highly Active Anti-Retroviral Therapy (HAART), and access to comprehensive psychosocial care and support services for PLHIV and their relatives, there has been a significant reduction in persons being evicted from their homes and being abandoned by their relatives, because of their HIV status. We have learnt a lot about the disease and the population has been educated about it.??

"… The Centre has reached its objectives over the years, and the closure of this Centre completes that journey of residential care for persons living with HIV to the Ministry of Health’s move to support persons with community care," she noted.

Assistant Supervisor at the Centre, Felicia Inniss, shared that her time at the institution included challenges, happiness and many teachable experiences.

"Over the years we attended 48 funerals.?? We have been pall bearers, read funeral lessons and raised money to bury persons whose families, even in death, did not want to have anything to do with them.?? I don’t think people know the miracles that happened at the Elroy Phillips Centre and today there are so many success stories.?? To the residents, be assured that we will not let you fall.?? You may stumble but we will not let you fall," Ms. Inniss pledged.

Community Health Education Officer, Sade Leon Folkes, remarked that when the Centre was first opened, society "frowned upon" not only the residents and staff, but everyone associated with it.

"There were many uncertainties and complexities confronting the residents of the Centre then, but amidst the fears that they were experiencing was the ever present fear of dying.?? It was not merely the dying, but they were dying from a condition associated with the unknown… It was witnessing those fears and the intensity of bereavement among the residents and staff that sparked in my mind the idea of establishing the Wall of Remembrance," Ms. Folkes explained.

Each resident would make his or her own angel in their likeness while being counseled in preparation for the inevitable. And, on those days when memories were too much to bear, the Wall, which carried a drape, was hidden from sight."

"When they were spiritually, emotionally and mentally ready, each resident, with assistance of a staff member would place their angel on the wall… It was a symbol that provided the necessary comfort that, even in the face of their imminent death, the memory would live on through an angel made by their own hands," the well-known HIV advocate explained.

Chairman of the National HIV Commission, Dr.Henrick Ellis; Acting Chief Information Officer, Dr. Elizabeth Ferdinand; Assistant Supervisor of??the Elroy Phillips Centre, Felicia Inniss; and Community Health Education Officer, Sade Leon Folkes, as they removed the plaque at the Centre, yesterday.??

Staff and residents have been assured that the Wall of Remembrance, a photograph of the Centre’s namesake, Elroy Phillips, and the plaque which once hung on its walls, would be kept in a safe place at the Ministry for future generations to view.??

Dr. Ferdinand expressed thanks to the staff of the Centre, along with the supporting staff in the HIV/AIDS Programme and other agencies that assisted the residents during the discharge planning process in preparation for their transition to community living.?? Staff of the Centre will be appropriately re-assigned in the public service.

The Elroy Phillips Centre was officially opened on July 7, 1995, and became fully operational on August 22, 1995.?? It was established to address the issue of homelessness among the HIV community and was named after a young man who was an advocate and a great source of support for other persons living with HIV.??

The first residents of the Elroy Phillips Centre were patients of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, who, although infected with HIV, were not in need of acute care, but had been abandoned by their relatives or could no longer support their independent living.

In keeping with the principle that all human beings had a right to a dignified existence, the Centre sought to provide a supportive home environment, free from prejudice and stigma, for the residents who would eventually move on to alternative accommodation. Over 30 persons have been in residence at the Centre and have since successfully returned to the community.??

Since the Centre received its first residents in August 1995, there were over 80 admissions.?? The site has been earmarked by the University of the West Indies as part of the upgrade and expansion of the Cave Hill Campus.?? It will still be known as a historical site, as it was also the former home of the Lazaretto.

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