AIDS Help provides case-managed health care, housing assistance, and support services for HIV-infected residents of the Florida Keys, as well as HIV prevention and education.
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Esneider Gomez, South Florida resident, has joined AIDS Help as part of a 5-year internship initiative, the first beneficiary of the recently-established Robert Walker Scholarship Program.

Named after the late Executive Director of AIDS Help (also the former Superintendent of Monroe County schools), the scholarship was designed to assess the evolving dynamics of HIV/AIDS, specifically in Monroe County.

“It was more than fitting that this have Robert’s name,” says current Executive Director Scott Pridgen. “The imprint he left on the Agency after ten years of service was significant, and he was also such a huge proponent -- as also the former Superintendent of the Monroe County school system -- of education and the innovations it can bring.”

Pridgen said Gomez’s recent arrival is a welcome full-time addition as the Agency seeks to bolster data analysis.

“Both our collaborator, the Florida Department of Health in Monroe, and AIDS Help have a vast archive of data, but in different formats, with different benchmarks. One of Gomez’s chief tasks will be pulling it all together,” Pridgen explains.

“The information to be gathered will not only benefit AIDS Help in better client service, it will enhance outcome reportage for future grantwriting. We’re not like nearby Broward or Dade counties, and this data will help differentiate our specific needs.”

Once assembled, the narrative could also potentially result in national publication, which would help position AIDS Help as a template for other like-minded organizations, Pridgen elaborates.

Gomez himself was apprised of what he calls “an amazing, grass-roots opportunity” by both the Dean and department Chairman of the FIU Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work at Florida International University, Gomez explains.

“It’s a win/win because an internship is a requirement of my Master in Public Health/Biostatistics…and AIDS Help and the Florida Department of Health in Monroe both benefit with data management.”

While his educational grasp of HIV/AIDS as a chronic illness was well-rounded, the social stigma and its implications less so, so time spent in a small town will represent its own anecdotal learning curve, Gomez notes.

“It’s rare in metropolitan areas to actually interact with the demographic you serve. Here in Key West, it will be on a daily basis. I look forward to learning the dynamics and mindset of the community that actually drive this data,” Gomez says.

Also under the guidance of Robert Eadie, Executive Director of the Florida Department of Health in Monroe, Gomez will complete his practicum by June 30th.   Completed work will be transferred to the next intern selected for their 6-month assignment in Key West.

The internship ultimately represents a significant piece of a new puzzle being assembled by AIDS Help and other social services organizations, Pridgen details.

“We’re looking to increase efficiencies…collaboration without duplication of services…creating a wraparound umbrella of services for those sometimes beset with several health issues. Access to these statistics and applying them to our clients will help refine and focus how we allocate money and Case Management time.”