The Special Needs Clinic was founded in 1992 and specializes in the mental health treatment of HIV-affected families.
Sheila began as an intern, became their first employee, and then a co-director.
With Sheila’s help, the clinic has treated almost two thousand patients:
Since its inception, the clinic has treated over 1,600 socioeconomically disadvantaged children, adolescents, and adult family members who are themselves HIV-positive or are living in families with HIV-infected and/or drug-addicted family members; it currently has approximately 300 patients at any one time and is staffed by more than 20 clinicians and lay staff.
An article in Redbook magazine in 1999 quotes Sheila about the patients at the Special Needs Clinic:
Ryan, herself a mother of five, is a rock-solid presence. … “These are people whom the system considers expendable,” says Ryan. “They’ve been beaten down and traumatized, their families have been torn apart. And still they won’t give up. Their will to survive–not just in a physical sense but as human beings–is inspiring.”
Read on for a good overview of the clinic and the unique way it helps their patients:
The Forgotten Children
THEIR MOTHERS HAVE BEEN CLAIMED BY AIDS. THE SYSTEM HAS FORGOTTEN THEM. FINALLY, THERE’S A RAY OF HOPE FOR THE EPIDEMIC’S HIDDEN VICTIMS.
Sheila is cited in this report by a director of Faith House in St. Louis:
A larger, unmet challenge still faces us. HIV/AIDS is now the sixth leading cause of death among young people between the ages of 15 and 24. Sheila Ryan of the Special Needs Clinic of the New York Presbyterian Hospital warns about a serious lack of services nationwide for HIV-infected teens. Adolescents do not fit into most traditional programs because of their particular learning problems and emotional and behavioral issues. It is past time for our community to address this population.
This 2005 article about the changing experience of HIV+ adolescents includes quotes from Sheila:
”This is not like cancer,” says Sheila Ryan, program director of the Special Needs Clinic at Columbia-Presbyterian. ”These families are not a cross-section of the population. These issues would be agonizing for any family to deal with, but the families that are likely to be dealing with H.I.V. are more likely to have problems with substance abuse and mental illness. These are poor families, and even within the poor community more likely to be fragile than others on the same block.” …
”The two issues they keep coming back to,” Sheila Ryan of Columbia-Presbyterian says, ”are the permanence of the virus — the idea that there’s nothing you can do to get rid of it — and what kind of impact it will have on their capacity to have children, which is partly a question about the ways in which they might be impaired or maimed or less than others.”
”Sometimes kids find ways of protecting themselves from the information,” Ryan adds. ”One girl who was in here, at the time we finally said the word H.I.V., she said, ‘But I know I don’t have AIDS.’ I said, ‘How’d you figure that out?’ And she said, ‘Because if you have AIDS, you’re skinny and living in Africa, so I know I don’t have it.’ Or another girl who was 15 — her mother told her the week before she came in here for the first time, and her response to that was simply that her mother had lied to her.”