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Upstate awarded $3.8 million to support medical services for people living with HIV/AIDS

Upstate Medical University has been awarded $3.8 million from the New York State Department of Health to enhance and expand three distinct services Upstate provides for young adults, women and all people living with HIV/AIDS. The project is a joint venture between Inclusive Health Services and the Pediatric Infectious Disease Division.

SUNY Chancellor John B. King, Jr., applauded Upstate’s efforts: "Upstate Medical University is an outstanding hub for medical research and care, and a crucial part of SUNY's mission to overcome society's biggest challenges through innovative solutions. There are still barriers for those living with HIV/AIDS, especially when it comes to medical treatment. I thank the New York State Department of Health for this $3.8 million investment, which will help Upstate enhance and expand HIV/AIDS support services, while ensuring those coming to them for care get the outstanding treatment they need to live full and fulfilling lives."

Upstate President Mantosh Dewan, MD, praised the Upstate team’s work. “This key funding from the State Department of Health allows Upstate to strengthen important health care services to those living with HIV/AIDS. I want to extend my thanks and support to our staff in our Inclusive Health Service and Pediatric Infectious Disease program for their dedication and commitment in ensuring these essential health services remain a part of Upstate’s mission.”

“Upstate is the premier location to receive care for people living with HIV,” said Elizabeth Asiago-Reddy, MD, division chief of Infectious Disease. “This allows us to offer ongoing and increased support to make sure people are receiving the services they need across their life span.”

The first program funded is Upstate’s Retention and Adherence Program, which is run though Inclusive Health Services. This program aims to improve medical outcomes for people living with HIV/AIDS and to reduce the incidence of new and/or untreated infections thus reducing the community-wide HIV burden through services aimed at addressing the patient’s barriers to care.

Asiago-Reddy said this program helps address the barriers people living with HIV/AIDS may face in getting treatment and taking medication for HIV/AIDS as well as other health problems they may have. Nurse case managers help patients with everything from family and mental health to transportation issues.

This program works with about 50 clients who are struggling with taking their medications, helps to engage about 100 patients who are newly diagnosed with HIV or transferring care, and routinely reviews all patients in the practice who have elevated viral loads (about 100-150 per year) to see whether they might benefit from more intensive support.

“What we see is that the struggles of an individual are unique to that person and often complex,” she said. “It is almost never one thing. It is a host of things coming together. This program has made an enormous difference in our ability to turn people’s health around and enable them to not just take their HIV medication, but to manage their whole health much more effectivity. This is so important because we know that taking HIV medications not only restores a person’s health but prevents them from passing HIV to others through sex.”

Another program supported by the grant funding is the Centers for Young Adults, directed by Leonard B. Weiner, MD, division chief of Pediatric Infectious Disease. The program provides multidisciplinary comprehensive and patient-centered medical care and supportive services to improve health care outcomes for adolescents and young adults, ages 13-29, who are living with HIV. The program is specifically designed to address mental health issues, substance use issues, discrimination, trauma, stigma, and social and racial inequities experienced by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) LGBTQ+ and historically marginalized adults and young adults living with HIV.

Currently there are about 50 youth living with HIV being served in the adolescent/young adult program. “This grant funding allows us to provide patient-centered support services to address the unique needs of young people living with HIV.  We will be able to offer specialty care designed to address social needs that have a huge impact on health and well-being,” said Weiner.

Finally, the grant will allow Upstate to establish services offered through the Family-Focused Health Care (FFHC) Program for Women. This clinic provides multidisciplinary comprehensive and patient-centered medical care and supportive services to BIPOC women and birthing individuals who are planning pregnancy, currently pregnant or active caregivers to children age 18 or younger and living with HIV. The program will be specifically designed to address discrimination, trauma, stigma and healthcare, social and racial inequities experienced by BIPOC, LGBTQ+ and historically marginalized women living with HIV.

The biggest change to patient care will be the addition of a variety of family-focused supportive services including breast-feeding service and guidance. Reddy said until recently, people living with HIV/AIDS were told not to breast feed but as people are living longer with their viral loads suppressed, that guidance has changed.

“This will give us the ability to figure out how to provide specific guidance and support going forward for safe breast feeding,” Asiago-Reddy said. “It is going to be an outstanding addition to services we already provide.”

Asiago-Reddy said this practice serves about 400 women living with HIV, about half of whom are of childbearing age. Typically, about 10 of our patients living with HIV become pregnant each year.

The Pediatric Infectious Disease division cares for the babies born to women living with HIV. “We are lucky we have been able to nearly eliminate mother to baby transmission of HIV in NYS,” Weiner said.  “The funding from this grant will allow us to provide equitable access to resources for our patients and their families to continue to improve health outcomes.”  

The grant funding was awarded through the New York State Department of Health’s Advancing Health Equity through Comprehensive Community-Based HIV Ambulatory Care Services program.

Asiago-Reddy and Weiner said Upstate will be able to continue many of the services it is currently offering without interruption and will begin to offer the new services within the next three months.

“Our greatest growth will be to offer additional supports to women of childbearing age living with HIV and to engage more expansively with the perinatal care program to offer wrap around services for people who are pregnant or breastfeeding with HIV,” Reddy said.  

“The pediatric program will be able to offer expanded services to help treat young people living with HIV. Additionally, we will be able to gather improved supportive data for all these programs, thus enabling us to better measure our impact,” Weiner said.

For information on access any of these services, contact Inclusive Health Services at (315) 464-5533 or the Pediatric Infectious Disease Clinic at (315) 464-1996.