By Nicholas Vercilla, Point Park News Service:
When Sean DeYoung moved to West Palm Beach Florida in 1991, the HIV/AIDS epidemic was in full swing with thousands of people getting infected and dying.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 29,850 U.S. residents died from HIV infections in 1991.
DeYoung, who was passionate about fighting the disease, volunteered with his mother at Connor’s Nursery, where babies that were infected with the disease were able to die in comfort.
“There’s a lot of health disparities for people living with HIV,” DeYoung said. “There’s a lot of stigma that is preventing people from getting the care that they need and it’s a population that needs to be protected.”
DeYoung has 20-plus-years’ experience in social service work that for him has been about helping the most vulnerable part of the population, including sexually-abused children, the homeless, the elderly and people with HIV.
When DeYoung moved to Pennsylvania, the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force (PATF) piqued his interest after he discovered that the group would be working on a massive-scale project for a fully-integrated care model for people with HIV/AIDS.
This project that PATF has worked on is a brand new medical clinic that is located on Penn Avenue in East Liberty.
According to DeYoung, who became the CEO of PATF in October 2015, the clinic offers a variety of services and programs that will act as a one-stop location for all of their clients’ needs.
“That is really the way of the future for social service organizations, is having a true one-stop shop so you can really wrap around your client base,” DeYoung said.
He hopes the clinic will help detect the HIV virus early enough in patients to make sure their viral load will be undetectable allowing transmission to be virtually impossible.
“We want to get to zero, zero new AIDS diagnoses,” DeYoung said. “It’s all about viral suppression.”
DeYoung noted that although there are around 3,800 people who live in the area with HIV, there has been a decrease in the number of new HIV cases, as DeYoung cited the number of new cases for almost a decade is only between 100-150.
The clinic offers specialized HIV/AIDS care that is led by Dr. Sarah McBeth, an internal medicine and infectious disease specialist at UPMC.
The clinic offers multiple screening rooms where tests can be done to see if a person is HIV positive or negative. If a person is positive, a phlebotomy room is used where blood is drawn to see if treatment is working as well as his or her viral levels.
In addition to testing for HIV and AIDS, the clinic also tests clients for sexually transmitted diseases like gonorrhea and syphilis and for hepatitis C.
Andrew Ptaschinski, the communications coordinator for the PATF, said that if a client tests positive for any of the mentioned diseases, he or she will have access to onsite treatment.
The clinic will also have access and be able to prescribe medication via the Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) clinic. PrEP is new tool that uses the medicine Truvada, which studies have shown to be more than 90 percent effective at reducing the risk of HIV infection.
Ptaschinski said that many doctors at other clinics don’t typically prescribe these types of medications to their patients due to either a lack of information by the doctor or the patient being uncomfortable to talk about his or her sexual history with their primary care doctor.
“That’s why it is great that we will be able to offer it here,” Ptaschinski said. “We’re a stigma-free zone.”
Located inside the clinic, there is a revamped food pantry right next to the main lobby, where clients can go once a month to receive a week’s worth of groceries and other supplies, such as soap, shampoo, deodorant and tampons for women.
Randi Lowe, the food pantry coordinator, said that donations for the food and supplies are sent in by Giant Eagle, Whole Foods as an extension of 412 Food Rescue, and Trader Joe’s. Lowe believes that this adds to the appeal and the benefit of the clinic and really pushes forward the idea of one-stop shopping.
Lowe hopes to add more personal care items to the shelves later, such as bandages and dental floss. She would like to start teaching cooking classes as well.
“It’s a big deal and they put a lot of money into this,” Lowe said.
Finally, with the clinic, PATF hopes to expand on its already established list of programs. One of which is its pharmacy with prescriptions that can either be picked up in the office or personally delivered to a client’s home.
Jason Herring, the director of programming and communications, said there are various outreach programs at the PATF that will benefit from the clinic. This includes Girl Talk, which targets African American women ages 13-18, and Stand Out, which primarily targets people in the LGBTQ community.
“A lot of these groups have faced a lot of stigma,” Ptaschinski said.
PATF had an official ribbon cutting ceremony in October that included Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, and U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills.
“It’s nice that in the community here, people have somewhere to go, an organization with a solid reputation that’s expanded the facility to offer a variety of services, and they’ve done a great job with the expansion,” Doyle said during the ceremony.
Peduto said he believes that a bigger sense of dignity and respect is needed for the people in Allegheny County who have infectious diseases like HIV or AIDS. The work done by PATF has been beneficial and serves as a sign of hope to end the pain that the disease causes, he said.
“We want to be seen as a city of compassion,” Peduto said during the ceremony. “I think we’re at the point now of understanding the disease and we’re working together to help people end their suffering.”
The clinic officially started scheduling appointments for clients in late November.
McBeth will be in Tuesday afternoons and Thursday mornings. She said she is thrilled to be a part of an organization that has been fighting HIV/AIDS since 1985.
“I think it’s a great place for people with HIV to come to get care, not just from a medical perspective, but overall care and case management,” McBeth said.
She also said that other HIV/AIDS medical clinics, such as the Pittsburgh AIDS Center for Treatment (PACT), will be more than willing and glad to help partner and work with this clinic in the future.
Ptaschinski said that they are currently looking for a therapist to offer psychiatric care for their clients. While DeYoung said that his goals are to expand the pharmacy program to allow more access to more people and to add a dental clinic. No timeframe has been given to either potential program.
He said that he owes everything to his talented staff, consultants and planners and is looking forward to the future with the clinic and the organization as well.
“My dream of a fully-integrated space has come to reality,” DeYoung said. “It just fills me with a lot of pride.”
All insurances are taken by the clinic, including Highmark and UPMC. Clients and potential clients can visit PATF’s website at www.patf.org to find more information about the clinic, as well as see when both the testing facility and food pantry are open.
This story also appeared on Nick’s WordPress site.