PORTSMOUTH AND SOMERSWORTH – A nurse at Greater Seacoast Community Health is one of 10 New Hampshire residents chosen to join a Hepatitis Network Learning Community aimed at improving the state’s plan to eliminate viral hepatitis and ensuring that people who inject drugs are included in that plan. The group will meet for six months to devise an action plan to link NH residents to treatment and harm-reduction services by working to strengthen existing partnerships so as to reach the people that need it most.
The nurse, Deneige Hudanish, RN, coordinates the Medication-Assisted Recovery and Hepatitis C programs at Families First Health Center and Goodwin Community Health, the health centers in Portsmouth and Somersworth that make up Greater Seacoast Community Health.
Hudanish is passionate about removing the stigma associated with Hepatitis C, which often causes people delay treatment. “With Hepatitis C, there is a clear outcome if someone takes the medication as prescribed,” she says. “Being able to provide this treatment for people actively using or with a lot of barriers is rewarding. They often don’t expect to get treatment. I had a patient last week who is in treatment for substance use disorder and had been previously told he could not access Hepatitis C treatment. Once the appropriate referral was made I was able to coordinate his treatment. He couldn’t believe it. It was motivation for him to cut way back on his drinking.”
One of the biggest barriers to Hepatitis C treatment at other medical providers in the region is that patients are not eligible to receive treatment until they’ve achieved six months of recovery. “We are unique as we will treat someone who’s actively using drugs or unhoused,” Hudanish says. “We try to make our program as low-barrier as possible. There’s no evidence to justify withholding treatment.”
Removing barriers is a key part of the services offered at Families First and Goodwin Community Health.
Coreen Toussaint, RN, manages the organization’s mobile health clinics, which serve many people experiencing homelessness. She appreciates Hudanish’s dedication. “She is very passionate about helping people receive treatment for Hepatitis C,” Toussaint says. “I’m happy to see her recognized for the amazing things we do for our patients that go above and beyond what is typically done in primary care.”
Hepatitis C often has no symptoms, or very subtle symptoms such as fatigue and jaundice. Left untreated over a long period of time, Hepatitis C can be fatal, according to Tiffaney Burdick, LPN, who manages the Medication-Assisted Recovery Program at Goodwin Community Health and Families First.
“It can be easy to ignore if a person isn’t symptomatic or if there is stigma or shame associated with condition for the patient,” Burdick says. “Some may even forget about it because it’s been so many years since they were diagnosed. Hepatitis C can be a decades-long disease.”
Greater Seacoast Community Health is a network of community health centers providing primary care, pediatrics, dental care, prenatal care, behavioral health counseling, substance use disorder treatment, mobile health services, WIC, social work services, a pharmacy, parenting classes, playgroups and home visiting. Services are open to everyone and aim to be respectful, recovery-friendly, LGBTQ-affirming and trauma-informed. For more information, visit GetCommunityHealth.org.