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Conyers resident honored for his work with AIDS patients

Conyers man honored for his work with AIDS patients

Conyers resident Fernando Harrold recently earned the Crossroads Hospice’s “Caring More” award, which is given to an outstanding social worker. (Special Photo)

Conyers resident Fernando Harrold recently earned the Crossroads Hospice’s “Caring More” award, which is given to an outstanding social worker. (Special Photo)

Fernando Harrold, who has devoted much of his life in service to others, says that his greatest satisfaction comes from a job done well for the hundreds of people he’s helped.

The Rockdale County resident — who works as a medical social worker at Grady Memorial Hospital — was recently surprised to learn that he would be the recipient of Crossroads Hospice’s “Caring More” award, recognizing an outstanding social worker.

Harrold, who works extensively with HIV-positive patients, was honored in late March at a ceremony in Atlanta. In addition to the “Caring More” award, Harrold received a $500 donation to the nonprofits of his choice, Project Open Hands and Meals on Wheels.

“It was surprising; it was a shock,” Harrold said of receiving the award. “You go through your day and work so hard to help the clients and their families and often times you are thanked here and there, but I’ve never imagined receiving something of this magnitude. It really felt good to know your work is well received.”

In his position at Grady, Harrold takes care of AIDS and HIV-positive patients and for many patients he is the touchstone of stability in their lives. He not only works with patients while at Grady but often provides assistance in coordinating housing, substance-abuse treatment and financial issues once they’ve left the hospital.

Harrold arrived in the metro area several years ago to take a job with AID Atlanta and he’s worked in case management, counseling and residential services at Tidelands Community Mental Health Center, Greenbriar Children’s Center, Charter Hospital and the Devereux Center, as well as AID Atlanta and Grady.

Besides his work with patients at Grady, Harrold is also a passionate public speaker, talking about AIDS prevention and the dangers of substance abuse.

With degrees in psychology and sociology from West Georgia and a master’s degree in social work from the University of Georgia, the 60-year-old Harrold has provided care to others in one way or another for some 30 years. He’s seen a lot serving on the front line of the HIV and AIDS issue and said that while there have been many positive changes in the landscape, some things remain heartbreakingly the same.

“We’ve done a lot of good, strong work in the field of HIV and AIDS,” he said. “We’ve gotten it to the point where initially, a diagnosis was pretty much considered a death sentence. Things have transitioned a lot since then. Now, we may consider it a chronic illness. And with a chronic illness, you have to follow up with your medications, maintain your doctor’s involvement, eat healthy and exercise. There’s a lot entailed into doing that, yet we are able to manage and allow people to continue to live stronger and healthier.

“Having said that, people are still dying. And in some cases, they’re dying before they get a chance to live — they’re coming in and dying very young.”

The native of the South Georgia town of Douglas said he developed his caring nature emulating his mother, who frequently welcomed down-and-out strangers into their home for a much-needed hot meal.

“I lost my father when I was young and my mom raised me, and she was always a community-minded person,” Harrold said. “It seemed she was always feeding people who stopped by the house who she thought might need a meal. That became a part of me. I had good upbringing by a strong mom.

“My whole career, I think, has been God-driven and spiritually driven. When I applied for work at AID Atlanta, I was looking for work and this job presented itself. I got involved and really saw what the issues were and continued to build my skills in trying to reach out to others from that point.”

Harrold, who with his wife Barbara have two children and five grandchildren, agreed that his line of work can exact quite an emotional toll, but the support he receives from his co-workers, family and friends is a big plus.

“You have to have a strong team to work with,” he said. “We have pastoral care on our team and I have colleagues and I’ll go and cry on their shoulders. It gets difficult. In this environment it’s tough because you can lose a client, yet you’re asked to go on to work with the next patient.

“We’re an acute-care facility and death becomes part of life. It’s a cyclical thing and sometimes it’s difficult to get back on your feet in a timely manner. You just have to move on and try to take that next situation and connect with them so you can connect them to the resources they need.

“This is just a small percentage of the population, but it’s my population. It’s what I deal with on a daily basis. For me, it’s all I see. I can get blind by just looking at the picture of HIV and AIDS. But then again, I remind myself this is just a small portion of the population. I have to try to keep moving based on that.”

Chris Starrs is a freelance writer based in Athens. To contact him, email cstarrs90@charter.net.