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Why an Airstream?

I’ve been on the hunt for an affordable Airstream for over a year and this hunting has proven to be more challenging than anticipated. I started out with the lofty idea of buying a vintage model and having the folks at Hofmann Architecture design and remodel it for me. When that path proved to be extremely over budget, I turned toward a newer, gently used model. I found a 2015, 30’ Flying Cloud model at Bay Area Airstream. Despite a $2,000.00 deposit, they sold it to someone who showed up with cash. The same day I learned it had been sold, this beautiful 2014, 27’ Eddie Bauer toy hauler came to my attention on the Airstream Hunter Facebook page.

A gentleman purchased it new in 2014, and moved it from the Airstream dealership to his home in Wittman, Arizona where it has comfortably served as his mother’s private little nook for TV watching and lounging. She’s moving into the main house now, so they no longer need the Airstream.

I made a trip to Wittman, AZ where I spent the night in the Airstream to give it a test run and see if it’s “the one”; the vessel I’ll use as the HepCarestream. The outreach work I’m doing with UCSF starts in September, and I need to have a safe place to live in order to be present and mobile in the 13 targeted Northern California counties who have high burdens of hepatitis C (HCV) and opioid abuse.

At a fundraiser for the HepCarestream the other day, a man scolded me for wanting to use an Airstream for this work. He said it was an extravagance. He suggested I buy a very basic fiberglass used trailer for half the price and then asked me, "Why an Airstream?”. If he had allowed me to answer, this is what I would have told him.

Now that HCV is curable, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) have set the goal of eradicating HCV by the year 2030. In hard to reach places, such as the rural areas I’m going to over the next 3 years, the capacity to treat HCV is extremely limited despite the large number of people who are infected in those areas. People who are lucky enough to get care, must travel very far to see a hepatologist (liver doctor), typically at an academic medical center. Often, this trip is burdensome and the resources to trek that far are not available. The goal of our initiative is to recruit primary care providers to participate in UCSF’s ECHO program or UCD’s telemedicine program. Both programs provide free education, specific to treatment of HCV, to rural primary care providers. As a result, local capacity to treat is built and people can be treated in their own community.

To be effective in a rural community, trust must be established. The only way to establish trust is to be present for an extended period, allowing for relationship building. This investment of time makes it possible to work with the community in a culturally sensitive manner as an accepted ally. In addition to recruiting primary care providers into the educational effort, I will be holding town hall meetings and testing events for community members thus, raising awareness at a grassroots level.

The commitment to living nomadically over a 3-year period requires a solid level of safety, security, and comfort. It requires a vessel of reasonable size that feels roomy enough to live in. Additionally, it needs to be easy to tow, be made of quality materials, and retain its value and integrity so it can be used for the next community assignment. Airstream is the only travel trailer on the market that meets all these criteria. An estimated 60 to 70% of all Airstreams ever made are still in use today. Built like airplanes, with aluminum panels riveted together to create a durable structure atop a sturdy steel frame, there is no doubt that Airstreams are made to last. Provision of acceptable accommodations are critical to the success of this project.

If this proof of concept is successful, I envision extending this work in rural places all over the country by using a fleet of several HepCarestreams. The idea is to send mid-level providers and MDs into rural communities where they can live for a year, to recruit providers, as well as treat people who otherwise have no care. This approach builds sustainable infrastructure by leaving behind providers who have the confidence and resources to treat this disease, once only treated by specialists.

Finally, Airstreams are iconic. They draw attention. I'm not seeking attention for myself. I want to draw attention to the work I'm doing. I want to start conversations at a grassroots level, helping people to understand that the shame and stigma they carry around about this disease will only keep them and their community from getting the help they need. By design, the HepCarestream will create a curiosity which I will translate into community teaching. In a sense, the community will be "stirred" at various levels which I hypothesize, will translate into action around HCV.

That's why I need an Airstream.

I'm looking to raise $65,000.00 to cover the trailer, tax, and licensing. Then there will a truck to purchase, however I'm seeking sponsorship along those lines.

In order to achieve the goal of purchasing this first HepCarestream, I need your help. Your contribution is fully tax deductible as we are a 501(c)3 organization. Please consider giving generously.

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