Many local heroes go unnoticed, doing their good deeds without publicity or a great deal of recognition. One such local hero is Jacques Fallu, a clinical nurse specialist at the Immunodeficiency Clinic of the McGill University Health Centre. Unlike many medical practicioners these days, Fallu is happy to make house calls – but that’s not always easy. He works with the most vulnerable patients at the clinic – IV drug users with HIV and, in many cases, hepatitis C. Sometimes, just locating his patients can be a challenge. Some live on the streets, and some are in jail. Some just seem to disappear.
“Sometimes they die because of drug use or HIV-related health problems,” says Fallu. “Or, they simply can’t be found. When I do connect with them, I talk with them about their health, and I tell them to call me any time because I can help them. We cannot do a great deal for some of our patients, but we can help them to be as well as they can be.”
Important to establish trust
“Because most of my patients don’t want to come to clinics, I go to them. Of course, we can do much more for them in our clinic, but I can do basic care – blood tests and dressings and so on – at their homes. I help them take their medication regularly, work with pharmacy groups to assist them, and often deal with social issues as well. I try to build rapport and establish trust, so they will let me help them.”
While the majority of Fallu’s patients live in Montreal, some are as far afield as Joliette. They leave Montreal to decrease their drug use, but find drugs in their new setting as well. Whenever possible, Fallu keeps in touch with them, follows up and encourages them to come to the clinic every three or four months.
Teaching techniques to avoid infection
Fallu teaches his patients harm reduction techniques to avoid drug-related infections. Some eventually stop taking drugs, or take them only rarely. These changes in behaviour can help significantly slow the progression of HIV and hepatitis C-related health problems. For his dedicated work, Fallu received the prestigious 2011 Prix Florence in the area of disease prevention, awarded each year by the Quebec Order of Nurses for outstanding professional achievement.
Fallu has been working with the HIV Outreach Program since 2001. Trained in the field of drug addiction, he has developed an extensive set of contacts with community agencies, other hospitals and other outreach programs. Most of all, he has built a rapport with some of the most difficult and hard-to-reach patients in the province. “It can be difficult and sad sometimes – but I love my work.”