A forum on HIV, rehabilitation and episodic illness: a personal account.

Published 27, Mar, 2017
Author // Rob Olver - Editor

Rob Olver goes to Envision Forum 2017, presented by Bruce House in Ottawa on March 22-23.

A forum on HIV, rehabilitation and episodic illness: a personal account.

"Since it was established in 1988, Bruce House has provided critical resources and support to Ottawa residents living with HIV and AIDS> I would like to thank everyone involved with the agency for their dedication to making a difference in the health and well-being of their fellow citizens."  - The Rt. Hon. Justin. P. J. Trudeau, P.C., M.P., Prime Minister of Canada.

#EnvisionForum2017 was a forum on HIV, rehabilitation and episodic illness held by Bruce House in Ottawa on March 22-23 and I'd been looking forward to it.




I took the bus to Ottawa the day before the forum and met up with PositiveLite.com publisher Bob Leahy, also covering the conference, at the Gilmour Inn, the Edwardian B&B where we'd been biletted. I really enjoy staying at the Gilmour -- it's comfy and everywhere you look, there's lots to see. Plus Richard makes a great breakfast

Day One

These shots were taken on our way to the Arts Court, which is the former Ottawa Court House, turned into a space for the arts. This is where Bruce House’s Envision Forum is being held.


The proceedings were emceed by the vivacious Koko Domenique Shennel (resplendent in pink) and we were welcomed to these traditional First Nations lands by two quite lovely Elder ladies  who I think were called Rita and Sally, but I couldn't quite hear.

Next we heard from Bruce House Interim Executive Director Rob Alexander, who read the letters of greeting from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and spoke to us about Ottawa's Bruce House:

"I hope that everyone who attends will feel that they have had an opportunity to have their voice heard... have shared in the experience of bringing community together to look at and discuss the wide spectrum of HIV in the areas of Episodic Disability and Rehabilitation and have participated in a way that is meaningful to them as an individual.

"... As Bruce House evolves and grows, we envisioned a forum such as this in order for our agency to provide information, educational opportunities, facilitate discussions and begin the process of growth with the community to ensure that everyone's voice is heard ... Your thoughts will only go unheard unless you take the time to give them a voice."

Great stuff and it served to whet my appetite for more. Next up was our keynote speaker, Dr. Kelly O'Brien, who is a physical therapist and Assistant Professor in the Department of Physical Therapy at the University of Toronto. The presentation was entitled, " Multi-morbidity and Episodic Disability meet their match: rehab strategies for healthy aging with HIV" and it was interesting to see her highlight the multiaxial challenges to health faced by the various sub-groups of people living with HIV as they age. Quite engaging and I'm still absorbing it.

One issue exposed was to do with the collection of data, not about HIV and Aging but on HIV and the Aged. It was mentioned that for people under 50 who are HIV-positive, data is available in bands of years i. e 15-19, 20-29, 30-39, 40-49. The next is 50+, meaning that although the health needs of someone aged 50 are likely to be much different than those of a person in their seventies or eighties, the respective data of these groups is not de-aggregated. So there is very little age specific information available on the health needs of people over 50 who are living with HIV.

Next, there was a panel discussion, chaired by CJ Grant, Peer Engagement Worker with the AIDS Committee of Ottawa, The panel, drawn from diverse streams of the HIV community discussed insights and reflections drawn from their lived experience of HIV from day of diagnosis to the present. I enjoyed hearing their reflections. After te panel discussion I went to the Community Information Fair that was hosted downstairs.

And that's where we met Poet-in-Residence Robert Pottie.



And that leads us up to the reception and entertainment, but not before a few selfies – here I am with CJ Grant and Gord Asmus.



Koko Domenique Shennel presided over the evening's festivities as well as performing. Things got underway with traditional drumming and Poet-In-Residence Robert Pottie recited some of his evocative verses -- and then I finally got to meet HIV advocate and Facebook friend  J. John Koornstra.


 Three lovely drag queens and a drag king. Pictured are Tatyana Romanov,  Koko Domenique Shennel, Dixie Landers, Koko again. Due to a technical glitch I didn't get a pic of our drag king, Master Cameron Eric Leon so here's a recent one I found online and I'd like to honour the fact that the dude's live vocals on "Some Enchanted Evening" KILLED.

So that was our evening. After this, it was back to the Gilmour Inn for me, exhausted after a wonderfully stimulating Day One of #EnvisionForum2017.

Day Two

This was the last day and I knew I was going to have to leave halfway through, so after packing my bags, I was serenaded at breakfast by this wonderful retro toy, which played a medley of hits of yesteryear. I'm pretty sure the Monty Python theme was in there somewhere. Not pictured because they were gone before I remembered to shoot a pic are Richard’s unique and incredible baked eggs. Then it was goodbye to the Gilmour Inn. I certainly enjoyed it there.

Day Two of #EnvisionForum2017 got underway soon after we got to the Arts Court. After a welcome and prayer from our two elder ladies, Clive Carter, Transition Worker at Bruce House, introduced Kate Murzin, Health Programs Specialist with Realize (formerly CWGHR), whose presentation was entitled, “HIV and Aging: Beyond the Body and Outside the Box.”



Part of Kate's role as Health Programs specialist at Realize is to provide secretariat support for the National Coordinating Committee on HIV and Aging (NCC), a network of researchers, service providers, older adults living with HIV and other stakeholders who are passionate about HIV and broader social justice issues affecting aging adults. As her bio notes, "she aims to inspire policy-makers and care providers to respond to the needs of diverse older adults affected by HIV and equips them with the evidence and tools to do so."

We heard more about the various and multi-axial stressors to health encountered by people aging with HIV. As was discussed again, this does not necessarily mean that these are old people and it was acknowledged that work needs to be done to de-aggregate data for those over 50, who, it turns out, are much more likely to have two infectious illnesses in addition to HIV. The HIV-positive elderly encounter many other stressors and challenges to proper health which go well beyond the medical and into the social realm, issues such as substance use, HIV stigma, homophobia, poverty, uncertainty of the future, depression, isolation and the list goes on.

What I especially liked about this workshop was that at one point Kate had us divide into groups to discuss areas of concern to people getting old(er) with HIV. Our group discussed issues of finance. This was a great way of turning the presentation into an actual workshop, with people actually engaged and talking to one another, making their voices heard -- and listening. This presentation was a definite highlight for me.

Bob Leahy will talk about this more in a separate article.

Next up were short presentations by people representing four Ottawa area service providers. And then it was lunch time and time for me to get back on the road. But not before getting a selfie with Bruce House Transition Worker and Koko alter ego, Clive Carter.

A quick scramble to the bus terminal and one baggage search later I was on my way back home, still turning things over in my mind and awfully glad to have had the experience.

Kudos to the team at Bruce House for the stellar job they did of setting this forum up, making the experience consistently engaging, informative and pleasant. And thanks to everyone who shared their knowledge, experience and presence. I hope I get to come back and catch up with you all at the next one.

About the Author

Rob Olver - Editor

Rob Olver - Editor

Robert W. Olver is a former education worker with an alternative life in experimental music. Currently retired and living in Peterborough, Ontario, he is a gentleman of leisure and the friend of all cats everywhere.

On October 14 2015 Robert  celebrated the first anniversary of his HIV diagnosis. Yes, that’s right. Celebrated.

“It was given to me just after my birthday and just a few days before I was to retire. I felt a bit overwhelmed initially but there’s nothing like a crisis to help you sort out what’s important to you. Let’s just say I found myself needing to revise some of my plans.

A year on, I find much to celebrate and I’ll be blogging to explain just what I mean by that and lots of other things as I navigate this journey".