Hershey Krippendorf may be the director of development for the HIV service organization Philadelphia Center in Shreveport, Louisiana, but she ended up providing front-line services for the organization’s new Syringe Service Program (SSP) during COVID-19. The program started in January 2020, just a couple of months before the nationwide shutdown. Other available staff members were leery about coming in.

“We continued with that service, through a window, because it was so new and we had told the community that we’re gonna have this for you guys, so it was important for us to continue it,” said Krippendorf. “Because you can’t have a gap in service for that community. And they prefer in-person service.” The work did her a lot of good. “I find so much joy from being able to just have conversations with our participants and learning about their lives, and just being there for them to listen. Because that’s one thing about our participants, is that they don’t feel like they’re being heard or they don’t feel like anybody cares about them. So we’re not just a place for them to get sterile syringes, but also a place to feel like a human being and where they can talk openly about their drug use.”

Open conversations are important to her. Once, a woman overhearing her discussion in a doctor’s office said, “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe you talk like that!” She says, “Being a first-generation Asian American, talking about sex was something that was very taboo. You know, I didn’t learn about the birds and the bees from my mother. It’s not something that you talk about in Asian cultures.” Her family is from Cambodia.

During the COVID shutdown, the Philadelphia Center also kept up its work for PrEP and PEP prescriptions. This was also important in part because the organization serves many serodiscordant couples. Walk-ins for HIV testing were stopped and they switched to appointment only. However, many people failed to make their appointments, despite receiving reminders from the center.

STI testing, however, continued without a hitch. “We have another component to our agency, the GBT Health Center, that offers a panel of STI and hepatitis C testing. That is still by appointment only, but that is a service that people in our community know about, and so they know who to talk to,” said Krippendorf. “There’s a lot of relationship building in that particular department, because the GBT community is very small in Shreveport.” In fact, she says, the center is walking distance for most of the people it serves.

She has one great wish: an addiction specialist who accepts Medicaid and Medicare. Krippendorf has no one to refer the center’s SSP clients to, because local providers for addiction services work on a cash-only basis.