NOhep Supporter Spotlight: Jennifer Slepin

As a nurse, former patient and advocate, Jennifer is a shining example of NOhep Visionary advocacy at its best. Working in collaboration with another NOhep Visionary, Dr Norah Terrault and Project ECHO, she is working to build capacity among healthcare providers in rural communities to treat hepatitis C, the ultimate goal being the micro elimination of hepatitis C in Northern California.

“With cure, there comes great hope. I sit with each of you who suffers from this disease.  I will fight for your rights and give voice to our cause… The foundation of my motivation is my lived experience with what I often refer to as my unwelcome, uninvited guest- HCV.  I do this work for the millions of others who suffer.”

After living with the hepatitis C virus for over 30 years, Jennifer was cured in May 2016.  Compelled to learn who she would be without the disease she had lived with for so long, she set out on a solo cross-country camping trip in June of that year, to raise awareness and to learn about how communities across the country were coping with the hepatitis C and associated opioid epidemics.

The experiences on that trip and the people she met along the way highlighted the fact that these communities were in desperate need of an intervention.  In her home state of California, 14 out of 15 Northern Californian counties are disproportionally affected by this disease. Despite this the healthcare systems are not equipped to handle the situation.  In many cases those lucky enough to receive treatment must travel a long distance to see a hepatologist.

Spurred on by her desire to make a difference, her six month road trip resulted in the formation of the non-profit, Hepatitis C Clinical Education Group, Inc., aka HepCarestream: The Nurse Is In.  This organisation is committed to actively working at a grassroots level in underserved communities to educate primary care providers to treat hepatitis C.  Eventually, she plans to deploy a fleet of HepCarestreams, staffed with healthcare professionals, to reach underserved communities throughout the United States, and beyond.

One of the key learnings from her experiences was the critical need to build trust and relationships with the people and families in communities across California. She realised that the best way to do this was to establish herself in the community for an extended period of time. That’s where the Airstream fits into the equation; a robust camper van with an attention grabbing sleek design, it allows her to become part of the community she is serving.

This investment of time makes it possible to work with the community in a culturally sensitive manner as a trusted and accepted ally.  In addition to recruiting primary care providers into the educational effort that ECHO provides, she will be holding town hall meetings and testing events for community members thus, raising awareness at a grassroots level.

Over the next three years Jennifer plans to replicate this approach in 13 counties in Northern California to recruit primary care providers in an ongoing clinical education programme specific to treating and curing hepatitis C.  As a result, a sustainable infrastructure is built by leaving behind providers who have the confidence and resources to treat the disease.  The need to refer out to specialists is eliminated, except for the very sickest of patients.

Using her past experience and commitment to care, Jennifer is an incredibly inspiring individual who expertly demonstrates the impact one person can have in a community healthcare setting. The work being done by Jennifer and HepCarestream is changing lives and arming communities with the tools they need to fight the spread of hepatitis C, and we are delighted to share this story with you.   Programs like this, help us get closer to our shared goal of elimination.

To support medical professionals in their efforts to educate peers and raise greater awareness of the disease, we’ve created The NOhep Guide for Medical Professionals: 5 Principles for taking action to eliminate viral hepatitis. This guide demonstrates the pivotal role healthcare professionals play in driving action to meet WHO’s elimination targets and gives practical resources to equip and empower medical professionals from across the world to take action to meet the 2030 goals. You can download the guide here.

To find out more about HepCaresteam you can visit their website here