Long-Term Survivors Inspire Change
A place where all are welcomed into Peace and Love in Mercy (PALM).
House of Mercy has provided residential services for over 30 years. In the beginning, this looked like welcoming a person at the end of their life, providing comfort in their final days after a life affected by stigma and discrimination based on sexuality and HIV status. With advances in medication, stable housing, and a dedicated care team, many people living with HIV can expect to live as long as their peers. For example, some of our current residents, who came to us under hospice care, have remained with us and achieved viral suppression. Our long-term survivors are pillars of hope for new residents coming with only a prayer, and they are the inspiration behind our new program name.
In 2022, we named our longest-standing program the PALM, a place that should call to heart the Balm of Gilead, where all are welcomed into Peace and Love in Mercy, echoing the critical concerns of our Sisters of Mercy.
Today, people of all ages, races, ethnicities and socioeconomic statuses are affected by HIV, but some have more reasons for HIV prevention than others. Those disproportionately impacted by HIV are likely to experience poverty, homelessness, intimate partner violence, lack of access to care, and other social determinants of health or structural barriers. People living with HIV who have overcome traumatic pasts due to racial and gender barriers are more likely to be disenfranchised from the affirmative care they need to test, prevent or receive treatment.
As we continue to care and advocate for those living with HIV, it has become clear that without House of Mercy, many of those we serve would no longer be with us because they did not gain access to the resources needed to live a long and healthy life. Like those in the past, all of our residents have at least one life-threatening major system disease, are diagnosed with multiple mental health disorders, and are part of a family that is unable or unwilling to provide the high care needs.
At PALM, we open our hearts to provide a sense of belonging and significance as we pour energy into welcoming new residents, gathering their care team, and putting their personalized plans into action. House of Mercy’s CARE values encourage us to dream big and celebrate little wins! Our nutritional program means overcoming malnutrition, whether you were recently under 60 pounds or over 300, learning about diabetes and cardiovascular disease risks, and practicing healthy choices through meal planning. We create partnerships that empower our residents with the financial knowledge they need as they plan for independence, apply for and gain social security benefits, and even prepare for work or volunteering in our larger community. We are privileged to witness the testaments of bravery and transformation as residents go through so many firsts along their lifelong journey of wellness:
First primary care provider after years of disenfranchisement
First infectious disease provider that will see them, manage their care for life, and rejoice as they achieve health goals
First time celebrating milestones of sobriety
First time reuniting with family feeling uplifted
Peace and Mercy are feelings most who come through our program have never known. In the first days, weeks, or even months, residents adjust as they internalize that they are and will be safe as they lay their heads to rest each night. With collaboration and dedication to growth, our residents find their voice by choosing to prioritize their own health and wellbeing. Trina’s story really highlights the joy of this work. She reminds us of the possibilities we foster respect for individual differences, ensuring that people are treated with justice, dignity, and compassion by witnessing God’s merciful love, reverence, acceptance, and dignity to all. Our tools are expanding as we learn more about health equity - we’ve traded morphine for nicotine patches, tears falling for life passing are now for life blossoming.
By: Jackie Cotter, RN, MSE Director of Nursing