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$1M project expands reach of Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force

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Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Workers from the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force gather in an office in the group's East Liberty location, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. Shown left to right is Medical Secretary, Leah Paris, Administrative Assistant, Veronica Olo Fernandez, Agency Case Manager, David Shannon and Medical Assistant, Tyra Gaines.
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Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Qiana Hayden, Baldwin, medical case manager for the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force gathers food from the organizations food bank for a client in East Liberty, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016.

A recently completed $1 million renovation and expansion of the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force in East Liberty has made Sean DeYoung’s vision a reality.

The project, which took about a year to complete and included a medical clinic expansion, is a step toward PATF’s goal to transition to a fully integrated medical and social-service care organization for people with HIV.

“I’m a social worker, and that’s where the social work field is moving,” said DeYoung, the AIDS Task Force CEO who came aboard last year. “Research has shown that people who can receive all of their medical and social services in one place are much more likely to get the comprehensive level of care they need.”

The population served by PATF has unique challenges in addition to living with HIV/AIDS, DeYoung said.

“Ninety-eight percent of our client base is below the poverty line,” he said, “so they may also face housing challenges and job challenges, which is a huge problem. If you’re worried about getting evicted or not having a place to stay, you’re not going to be worried about taking your medication like you’re supposed to or coming to see your doctor when you need to.”

The renovated PATF center, unveiled at a ribbon-cutting last Tuesday, offers a food pantry, an on-site pharmacy, legal aid, programs for medical case management and federal housing assistance. It also offers an adherence program designed to help patients who struggle to remember to take their medications through personalized texts or phone calls.

Mayor Bill Peduto hailed the project as a turning point in PATF’s 31-year history.

“In the late 1980s and early ’90s, very few organizations were willing to brave the stigma associated with HIV and AIDS,” Peduto said. “Now, because of the hard work of organizations like Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force, we’ve been able to do away with much of that stigma so we can effectively treat the disease itself.”

In addition to providing HIV-related medical care, the clinic will provide routine primary care for clients and their families. That includes HIV-prevention services — through pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a daily pill that reduces the risk of contracting HIV by more than 90 percent — and testing and treatment for non-HIV sexually transmitted infections for anyone in the community.

“We get a lot of kids from the colleges who come in to get STI testing,” DeYoung said. “But it can be stigmatizing or embarrassing to have to go back to the doctor you’ve known since you were 5 to get STI treatment. We wanted to offer treatment here, too, so we know that everyone we test will also be able to get treated.”

Dr. Sarah McBeth, who will serve as medical director for the center, noted that two other large HIV clinics in Pittsburgh — UPMC’s Pittsburgh AIDS Center for Treatment and Allegheny Health Network’s Positive Health Clinic — often are crowded and generally limited to providing care specifically related to HIV treatment.

“I think we have a little more flexibility in the types of patients we can see,” McBeth said. “And we’re the first clinic to open on the East End. Lots of local community members come to PATF to use resources like case managers and the food bank, and we hope that by having a clinic, we’ll also be able to provide them with whatever medical care they need.”

U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, joined Peduto in praising PATF’s ambitious vision.

“This is a great move they’ve made to become a one-stop shop where a variety of needed services can be obtained under one roof,” he said.

Kristina Marusic is a contributing writer.

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