Here is a blog featuring George Kraus from the Minnesota Department of Health. George was one of the DIS Engage scholarship winners from STD Engage 2018.
Of the MANY sessions I attended, the one from which I gained the most perspective and felt I could adapt to my current position was during the post meeting workshops. The group attending was much smaller than the previous sessions held eariler in the week but I found that to be helpful. I attended “Enhancing Connections with DIS…”. The speaker with whom I connected the most was Tayneata Starrr from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. It has been a few weeks since the annual meeting ended so I hope I have an accurate recollection of the details of her presentation.
She explained how their DIS routinely work their contracted EIS programs. When clients of those programs test HIV+, the client signs a ROI for the EIS program and their state DIS to communicate directly to provide the best service for those clients. This collaboration helps the client understand what a DIS does and also provides open communication to address any immediate needs of those clients. When those clients fall out of care, the DIS are able to work with the EIS program to help get that client back into care as soon as possible. This seems like such a simple and valuable solution to the ongoing needs of the clients we serve here in Minnesota. However, that isn’t always the case.
In my attempt to get something similar started here in Minnesota, I did not expect to meet the legal challenges I have. Some states, such as Minnesota, have privacy laws that are more strict and comprehensive than others. The laws in place in Michigan are more flexible than what we have in place here in Minnesota. Despite that challenge, we will be meeting soon to begin talking about how to make any changes needed to incorporate the ideas Michigan has into our future plans.
As part of the scholarship application process for the 2018 STD Engage meeting, I had to create a 1 minute video of what being a DIS meant to me. I put a great deal of thought into what I wanted to say and kept going back to one part of my own personal life that has drastically changed how I live my life, in addition to how I see my DIS work. What I chose to submit for my video was my personal experiences with mental illness. I had the opportunity to meet a couple of the NCSD staff who reviewed that video and was encouraged to share my story with others.
Since completing my ISTDI DIS training in 1996, the mental health of the clients we serve has never been a part of the DIS training or any other training of which I am aware. Despite that, mental illness is a significant part of what we see as DIS on a daily basis whether we realize it or not. It affects everyone directly or indirectly, across all races, ethnicities, educational levels and every level of socio-economic status. It doesn’t matter who you are.
I would very much like to see some type of mental health training offered so that DIS are more prepared to work with those clients who need that extra help. I don’t expect DIS to become mental health counselors or experts but would like to see a training to recognize signs and symptoms of mental illness as well as how to find the best resources locally. In Minnesota, we have some great resources such as Mental Health Minnesota and MakeItOK.org. I encourage all DIS to find resources in your areas to learn more about mental illness.
I have been to 4 National STD conferences but none had a focus on DIS work more than STD Engage. This was my first time attending STD Engage so I am very grateful to have been one of the scholarship recipients.
For me, the post meeting workshops on the last day were the most beneficial. Maybe that had to do with such a low number of participants going to those workshops. Those that did attend seemed to have a very strong interest and wanted to share much more openly than some of the larger groups earlier in the week. What did get my attention was hearing others share their concerns about how to address the mental health needs of the clients with whom we work. That seemed to be a concern across program disciplines and all parts of the country. I was very glad to hear that come up so often which reinforces the need for ongoing training and resource development in the area of mental health and mental illness.
George Kraus began his career working as a DIS in 1996 while working at the Utah Department of Health in Salt Lake City. He completed what was previously known as ISTDI, now called Passport, in 1996. He currently works at the Minnesota Department of Health in St. Paul, Minnesota. George began as the DIS in the HIV Care Link Services (CLS) Program but was able to move into a full-time DIS position in the Partner Services (PS) Program. In June of 2017, his role with MDH changed and expanded to his current role as the Lead Worker in the HIV CLS Program. He has also worked as a DIS in Chicago and at the Bell Flower Clinic in Indianapolis, Indiana.