Asheville, NC – “Works of Heart” is the theme for this year’s Raise Your Hand dinner and auction benefitting the Western North Carolina AIDS Project. The event will take place on Saturday, September 24th at the Doubletree Hotel in Biltmore Village.
The theme pays tribute to those who generously donate their time, talents, and resources to help others. That includes healthcare professionals who care for those living with HIV/AIDS, like Dr. Polly E. Ross, Medical Director at Western North Carolina Community Health Services and Honorary Chairperson of this year’s Raise Your Hand event.
Since the beginning of her career, Dr. Ross has made caring for persons living with HIV disease her life’s work and professional passion. She is a trailblazer in the field of HIV/AIDS care and treatment in Western North Carolina.
After graduating from the San Francisco Medical School in the late 1980’s as a Family Medical Specialist, Dr. Ross chose to do her residency at Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC). It was during that residency that she was selected as one of only six residents from across the country to attend a fellowship with the International AIDS Society, USA in San Francisco. At that time, the residents saw 100 patients a day. Every day, they lost ten to AIDS.
In the early 1990’s Dr. Ross began working at a small local hospital here in Western North Carolina. As her patient load began to grow, it became apparent that the region needed a clinic that specialized in the care and treatment of those living with HIV & AIDS.
“I remember a patient who had one of the first cases of Pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP) in the area -- the deadly pneumonia that strikes persons with a very low immune system. The staff in this facility were so unfamiliar and afraid of this illness that they wore extensive gowns and masks whenever they entered the patient’s room. She was a young woman who was just as frightened by the staff as they were of her. At age twenty-seven, she had only had three boyfriends in her lifetime. She only found out that she was HIV positive after one too many visits to the gynecologist’s office for a yeast infection. We had to spend a lot of time disrobing the fear of the hospital staff, in an effort to allow them to provide their much needed compassionate care. In her own way, this frightened patient was a heroine and leader in HIV care,” said Dr. Ross.
In late 1993, a group of community activists led by Dr. Polly Ross, Carlos Gomez, and Minnie Jones formed a non-profit that we know today as Western North Carolina Community Health Services (WNCCHS). It was a long and arduous process, Dr. Ross recalls.
WNCCHS has grown from a small health clinic serving only those with HIV and AIDS to its current status providing medical, dental, and behavioral health care to more than 18,000 Buncombe County residents regardless of diagnosis.
WNCCHS is the federally designated recipient of Ryan White funding to provide comprehensive HIV medical care to persons living in WNC. Polly E. Ross, MD is the clinic’s first and only Medical Director. She works tirelessly overseeing the clinical care of persons living with HIV disease, the supervision of the clinical staff, and the quality of the care provided for all patients.
In the last thirty years, tremendous progress has been made in the fight against AIDS. Unfortunately, the epidemic continues to grow. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, someone in the United States is infected with HIV every 9 ½ minutes. We are fortunate that in Western North Carolina, thanks to persistent prevention education and outreach by organizations such as WNCAP, the rate of new infections remains lower than many other places.
Western North Carolina AIDS Project is dedicated to providing HIV related services to the people of Western North Carolina through client support, prevention education and outreach activities. WNCAP serves approximately 400 clients in 18 Western North Carolina counties from offices in Asheville, Hendersonville, Shelby and Sylva NC. WNCAP Educators provide evidenced-based prevention interventions to hundreds of men, women and youth every year. WNCAP is nationally recognized as a leader in efforts to fight the fear and stigma of HIV/AIDS with its “I need U2 know” campaign.
The annual Raise Your Hand event is a critical fundraiser to support the important work of Western North Carolina AIDS Project. Now more than ever, during this time of economic uncertainty, WNCAP clients need the support of the community. It is also a wonderful opportunity to honor Dr. Polly Ross for the tremendous contribution she has made to public health in Western North Carolina.
For more information about the Raise Your Hand event or to read more about Dr. Polly Ross, please visit the web page www.wncap.org/ryh. Raise Your Hand tickets may be purchased online, and for $125 include dinner prepared by four of Asheville’s favorite chefs – Joe Scully, Corner Kitchen; Michel Baudouin, Bouchon; Anthony Cerrato, Fiore’s Ristorante Toscana; and Eric Scheffer, Vinnie’s.