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Tuesday, February 16, 2021

AHN Positive Health Clinic Expands Access to HIV Care with Launch of Mobile Care Program

PITTSBURGH – As the COVID-19 pandemic persists, so too do other major global public health issues such as the ongoing HIV/AIDS epidemic. To reach more patients in southwestern Pennsylvania who are positive for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), Allegheny Health Network (AHN) announced today that its Positive Health Clinic has launched a regional mobile care program.

Staffed by a registered nurse or other medical provider and a medical assistant, the new AHN mobile unit travels throughout Allegheny County and surrounding counties, particularly in rural areas, to provide care to individuals with HIV. The unit is equipped with the medical supplies and equipment necessary for the caregivers to conduct physical exams, collect blood samples for laboratory testing, and administer medications and vaccines as needed.

During the visit, patients have the opportunity to connect virtually with a primary care provider at the Positive Health Clinic (PHC) based at AHN’s Federal North Medical Building near Allegheny General Hospital. Patients can also be referred to other health care specialists, as well as community-based supportive services to help address any other social barriers to good health that they might face.

PHC has provided comprehensive, state-of-the-art primary care to HIV-positive persons for more than 20 years. Funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration’s (HRSA) Ryan White CARES Act Program, patients receive a wide range of primary and specialized HIV care regardless of their medical insurance or ability to pay.

As an extension of the care provided at the PHC, the mobile care unit currently operates two days per week with an initial focus on HIV-infected patients who were once engaged in care at the PHC but who face challenges in maintaining adherence to treatment and/or have disengaged from care.

According to the CDC, Pennsylvania has the ninth highest rate of new HIV infections in the nation. In addition, the CDC has declared Pennsylvania one of the states at risk for, or experiencing, increases in HIV and hepatitis C as a result of the opioid crisis. The PHC provides medications for opioid use disorder and other interventions for people using substances who are living with HIV infection.

“While HIV is acutely prevalent in our region, there are more treatment methods available today than ever before. With the launch of the mobile care program, our goal is to reach patients where they are to better engage and retain them in care, and ultimately to give them the very best chance  to live long and  fruitful lives through effective management of their health,” said Stuart Fisk, CRNP, Director of Strategy, AHN Center for Inclusion Health.

Fisk, who also serves as principal investigator for the Ryan White grant, says that one challenge often faced by patients, and particularly by those who live in outlying areas, is having access to a nearby health care facility or the transportation necessary to travel to a clinic. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic, more patients are becoming familiar and comfortable with virtual care.

“We’ve gladly seen retention in care increase over the past year with the introduction of virtual care to many patients who had not previously utilized it. By introducing telehealth to patients via our mobile program, we are hopeful that they are more likely to maintain connection with their provider over the long term,” said Fisk.    

The mobile program’s geographic reach is expected to expand over time. Through collaborations with community partners, the program’s service offerings may also grow to include community testing and preventive care for those who are at high risk for contracting the virus.

AHN HIV primary care clinics are also offered once per week at AHN’s Forbes Family Medicine and once per month in Aliquippa, Pa. The PHC staff is comprised of board-certified physicians in primary care and infectious disease, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, behavioral health specialists, peer advocates and more.

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