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University professor and co-founder of local health center is an everyday hero

Thanks to Northern Nevada HOPES and Trudy Larson’s work with HIV/AIDS, a baby has not been born with HIV in northern Nevada for the past two decades

Staff members at Northern Nevada HOPES health center, from left to right, Kathy Bandur, Trudy Larson, Colleen Martin and Angelica Gallegos

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1/3/2017 | By: Hannah Richardson |

Northern Nevada HOPES is a nonprofit community health center in downtown Reno that offers patients integrated medical care and wellness services. According to the HOPES mission, the health center helps medically underserved populations with their one-stop shop healthcare model that reduces the barriers to care and increases the likelihood of maintaining long-term health. These patients are able to receive care today thanks to co-founder and former medical director at the health center, Trudy Larson.

Larson, who is also a professor and director of the School of Community Health Sciences at the University of Nevada, Reno, began working in HIV care in 1981 during an infectious disease fellowship at the University of California, Los Angeles, where some of the first cases of AIDS were identified. She moved to Reno in 1983 before there were many tests or medications for AIDS, however, when the science advanced, it was clear that there was a need for services in Reno for persons with HIV.

"The first clinic was started at the Washoe County Health Department in 1990 by Dr. Steven Zell and I, which was modeled after the early intervention clinics that were starting to appear around the country," Larson recalled. "The number of patients grew rapidly and we were forced to look for a more permanent home."

Bob Daugherty, dean of the University of Nevada School of Medicine at the time, put together a large community planning effort that helped create Northern Nevada HOPES in 1996. HOPES was initially founded as a community based organization to care for HIV/AIDS patients. Zell and Larson were the original members of the medical staff. According to Larson, HOPES began to grow quickly, resulting in their relocation to their current address in 2004 with 300 HIV/AIDS patients, which steadily increased to 600 patients. In 2014, HOPES became a Federally Qualified Health Center and now serves all people including those with HIV. Since then, the center has grown to serve more than 7,000 patients and it continues to see about 600 HIV/AIDS patients.

"I'm very proud that the mission of Northern Nevada HOPES continues to serve those in need," Larson said. "Many services have been added including addiction services, behavioral health, case management and Hepatitis C treatment, and HIV care continues to be state of the art."

Larson's decision to specialize in infectious diseases was a happy coincidence. She initially applied for an adolescent fellowship at UCLA, but was told that the position was already filled. So, she decided to apply for an open position in pediatric infectious diseases.

"After meeting and talking to the faculty member, Dr. Yvonne Bryson, who would be supervising the experience, I felt that I had found my niche," Larson recollected. "Dr. Bryson became my mentor and introduced me to viruses and HIV. This was the best coincidence I ever had."

Many years ago, Larson worked with a team from the School of Medicine to implement and evaluate HIV/AIDS nutrition services in an outpatient setting with a grant they had received. Their work was successful and their findings inform nutritional care for HIV/AIDS patients today. Larson has also worked on projects with the Nevada State Division of Public Health and Behavioral Health in evaluating the status of care for mothers with HIV and their infants. She and her colleagues identified important treatments and services needed in Nevada through large needs assessments and evaluated how services for HIV/AIDS affect outcomes. Her findings inform policies and funding decisions today.

According to Larson, a baby has not been born with HIV for 23 years in northern Nevada, thanks to her work and care of mothers with HIV. She said that it is a testament to the routine testing that obstetricians do today to identify women with the disease early in pregnancy.

"I help manage those pregnancies by starting medications and following the women and their infants after delivery," Larson said. "The treatment of HIV has become so advanced that medications are easy to take and very effective at treating the women and protecting their infants."

In addition to her work at HOPES, Larson participates in many activities that relate to public health. She is the incoming chair of the Nevada Donor Network board of directors who supports organ donation in Las Vegas; she works with Immunize Nevada to advocate for vaccination; she maintains memberships in the Nevada Public Health Association; she sits on the Nevada Public Health Foundation board; she participates in the Public Health Commission for the Nevada State Medical Association and represents the University in the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health. She also continues on the board of the Reno Chamber Orchestra, as she believes music is good for the soul.

In the future, Larson's professional goal is to lead the School of Community Health Sciences to become an accredited School of Public Health, and believes they are well on their way for that to happen.

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