May is Hepatitis Awareness Month and VA is getting the word out about hepatitis C testing and treatment. Hepatitis C is a disease that affects the liver. Veterans are at higher risk for hepatitis C and testing is recommended for Vietnam Era Veterans and those born between 1945 and 1965 (full list of risk factors). VA is working hard to get Veterans treated with new medications that are able to cure most people.
Facilities across the VA are implementing innovative strategies to increase testing and treatment. A few of those facilities, Kansas City, Asheville, and Salisbury, shared their accomplishments so far and their plans for Hepatitis Awareness Month with us.
Shannon McFarland is the hepatitis C coordinator for the Kansas City VA Medical Center. She shared their new take on sending out letters to encourage Veterans to be tested for hepatitis C.
“Letter campaigns are nothing new but we wanted to do a fresh take on it so we send out color-printed letters instead of the black and white form letter,” explains McFarland.
For added convenience, Veterans can take the letter directly to the lab to be tested without having to go to an appointment first. After Veterans get their testing done, they can enter a raffle that is done monthly for a Walmart gift card. McFarland also calls patients who are in the birth cohort (born 1945-1965) and have an upcoming primary care appointment to ask if they’d like to be tested when they are on campus. These efforts have helped them increase their testing rates significantly.
The Kansas City team raises awareness.(L-R) Evan Gahan, Pharm D, Sarah Eiker- GI Coordinator, Thelma Agustin- GI Coordinator, Shannon McFarland- Hepatitis C Coordinator, Prashant Pandya- Hepatologist, CC Li – Pharm D
At the Asheville VA Medical Center in North Carolina, they’ve also used letters to help get Veterans in for testing. Michael Sidorovic, the regional Hepatitis Innovation Team lead for VISN 6, reports they also conducted an advertising campaign which included newspaper ads, radio commercials, television advertisements and interviews. They are about to launch a new set of print advertisements this month.
For Hepatitis Awareness Month, Kansas City has many activities planned to increase testing and treatment. Providers will be wearing stickers to encourage people to ask them about hepatitis C. Voluntary Services is helping them put together gift baskets to be raffled off. Staff will be wearing aprons showing where the liver is located, headbands, and sandwich boards to create awareness and hand out information.
Kristen Gallagher, R.N., is the hepatitis C coordinator at the Salisbury VA Medical Center in North Carolina and the co-coordinator for the Hepatitis Innovation Team in VISN 6. Salisbury is also planning Hepatitis Awareness Month events that will get the attention of both providers and Veterans. At the Salisbury VAMC and the surrounding community care clinics, Gallagher and her team are creating costumes that show a healthy liver and a cirrhotic liver that they will wear while passing out information.
Kristen Gallagher and Michael Sidorovic dressed up for Liver and Hepatitis Awareness at the Salisbury VAMC.
These are just a few of the many creative approaches teams across the VA are taking to get the word out about hepatitis C testing and treatment for this year’s Hepatitis Awareness Month.
These impressive efforts are helping VA cure hepatitis C. And it is working. VA has treated over 106,000 Veterans with the new hepatitis C medications and we are close to marking our 100,000th Veteran cured of hepatitis C.
If you haven’t been tested, ask your VA provider about it at your next appointment. If you are hepatitis C positive, learn more about the new effective treatments and get started on treatment as soon as possible.
Learn more: https://www.hepatitis.va.gov/patient/daily/success/index.asp
Elizabeth Maguire, M.S.W., is the communications lead for the HIV, Hepatitis, and Related Conditions Programs in the Office of Specialty Care Services.