With Washington, DC in the midst of an HIV epidemic, One Tent Health has a clear mission: to save and extend lives. After volunteering in his community as a university student, co-founder Mackenzie Copley was inspired to create the organization, which uses a novel approach to HIV prevention among the area’s highest-risk neighborhoods.
At 21, Mackenzie co-founded One Tent Health with his friend and, then-medical student, David Schaffer, after noticing that a private outreach clinic turned people away who were uninsured. To solve this problem One Tent Health provides a free pop-up HIV screening service in key locations across the city, using a canvas tent as their base, to all residents regardless of insurance status.
The organization specifically concentrates on testing residents in the eastern part of Washington DC; the communities that have the highest rates of HIV in the city. “We work hard on our targeting, using the DC annual surveillance report to better understand where the need for testing is highest. We go to areas without stationary clinics to avoid duplication,” says Mackenzie. He adds, “Our formula is simple. We screen with a tent, rapid testing kits, and amazing volunteers. Minimal overhead and no expensive van, all while only requiring 15 minutes of someone’s time.”
By supporting those who need it most, One Tent Health is making a difference in its community, which includes African Americans and MSM (men who have sex with men). The One Tent Health model simplifies the stressful and complex path from unknown HIV status to managed care for all individuals. Those who test positive are linked to confirmatory testing and appropriate care, while those who test negative are supported with preventative counselling and offered Rapid PrEP Linkage from an on-site partner provider.
From giving up his corporate career to focus on the charity, to working several part-time jobs before One Tent received funding, Mackenzie knows the sacrifice that goes into founding a nonprofit. Above all, though, he expresses astounding gratitude for the hard work and dedication of the team at One Tent Health, saying, “We’re now approaching 1,000 amazing volunteers, including Student Advisory Boards at 5 different local universities. Before funding, our COO, Lindsey Sawczuk, worked without a salary for two months because she believed so much in what we were doing. My co-founder David serves as our Policy Director while also working as a Resident Physician at Massachusetts General Hospital. They are all amazing and nothing would happen without a fantastically dedicated team.”
INSTI is central to the One Tent model, as a quick test that enhances the flow of testing and is easy for their volunteers to learn to use. “I love INSTI,” says Mackenzie. “We don’t want to hold people for any longer than we have to so from time and scheduling perspectives it is great.” He adds, “The rapidity is what is really important to us, especially when we are welcoming clients who are stressed or anxious about their HIV status. When you see them walk out happy and relaxed just a few minutes later, that’s where you see the real-life value.”
“Our clients sometimes come in feeling so nervous that the finger prick might hurt. For our volunteers it’s a great opportunity to explain just how simple this test is and reassure them that it’s not painful. From there, the clients are often fascinated by the testing process. It looks like a science experiment and people ask questions and engage in the process. The best thing about that is that it captures their attention, and before they know it, the test is complete, and their results are ready,” Mackenzie explains.
One Tent Health has ambitious plans, and expansion is firmly on the agenda. “Our current goal, with the new semester coming around, is to be able to screen over 100 people each weekend. With support, we’ve been able to buy more tents and equipment so we’ll be able to screen and rapidly link people to PrEP at multiple locations, on the same day, for the first time ever. We are also looking at expanding to new cities over the next few years. INSTI is, and will continue to be, one of the most important parts of our strategy.”