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AHN RIver Clinic staff
Tuesday, December 14, 2021

AHN Clinic Expands Access to Health Care, Social Services for Individuals Released from Incarceration

The first of its kind in the region, the ‘Rethinking Incarceration and Empowering Recovery’ (RIvER) Clinic led by AHN’s Center for Inclusion Health uniquely supports the health and wellbeing of former inmates

PITTSBURGH – Allegheny Health Network (AHN) announced today that its Center for Inclusion Health has launched an innovative clinic aimed at more rapidly, effectively and compassionately meeting the health needs of individuals following release from incarceration, as well as connecting them with the various social supports that can help them get a fresh start.

The ‘Rethinking Incarceration and Empowering Recovery’ (RIvER) Clinic is the only in the greater Pittsburgh region where people who were formerly incarcerated can receive care, regardless of their ability to pay, immediately following discharge from jail. Since launching in the spring, the clinic’s caregivers have engaged with more than 200 individuals. The program is supported by generous grants from the Highmark Foundation and The Pittsburgh Foundation. Other supporting organizations include Vital Strategies, Allegheny County Department of Human Services, Pennsylvania Department of Human Services and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Following incarceration, individuals commonly lack adequate assistance with accessing and coordinating health care and other social services, and face challenges in advocating for their health needs. The AHN RIvER Clinic seeks to close this gap that exists between incarceration and reentry to normal life, which has traditionally led to deterioration of health, increased risk of relapse in substance use and/or drug overdose, increased rate of recidivism and more.

The clinic leverages AHN’s existing relationship with the Allegheny County Jail in which the network serves as the facility’s medical provider.

Based on site at the jail, an AHN community health worker and nurse navigator work to facilitate seamless transitions to care at the clinic which is located a few blocks from Allegheny General Hospital at AHN’s Federal North Medical Building. Following discharge, referred patients meet with the clinic’s medical staff to uncover their health needs and determine appropriate care and social support pathways. Physicians who assist in these efforts include board-certified AHN internal medicine doctors Divya Venkat, MD, and Tom Robertson, MD.

“Incarceration can be an extremely tenuous time in a person’s life. Many people have lost their social networks and face many other significant challenges as they reenter society, including managing health issues on their own,” said Dr. Venkat. “Our goal is to be a safety net that hasn’t existed before for this vulnerable population, and to help give them the very best chance at building healthy and fruitful lives.”

Individuals most commonly engaging in primary care at the clinic include those with medical comorbidities, substance use disorders and hepatitis C, as well as those with women’s health needs. A social worker also meets with patients to begin to address any social barriers they might face related to housing, transportation, access to food and more.

“We have seen the stigma of incarceration negatively affect our ability to transition individuals to care post release. Allegheny Health Network has consistently seen that need and recognized the necessity in providing support to a vulnerable population as they re-enter our community. We are thankful that AHN has prioritized our neighbors’ continuing their health care goals as they navigate re-entry into the county,” Laura K. Williams, NCC, Chief Deputy Warden of Healthcare Services, Allegheny County Jail.

“Meeting an individual upon release provides timely access to quality health care and addresses a critical health equity issue in our region,” said Allie Quick, Chief Philanthropy Officer at AHN. “We are grateful to the Highmark Foundation and The Pittsburgh Foundation for recognizing the urgency and impact of this initiative to support the transition process of those re-entering the community.”

The RIvER Clinic is one of many programs offered by the AHN Center for Inclusion Health. The center was formed in 2014 as one of the nation’s first comprehensive programs of its kind focused on meeting the health care needs of individuals in underserved or marginalized populations. Through a coordinated and compassionate care delivery model, and using evidence-based interventions, its programs address the obstacles that make it difficult for people to access care. This includes, but is not limited to, addiction, food insecurity, HIV/AIDS, housing insecurity, immigrant/refugee health and transgender health.

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