On Dec 1., marked World Aids Day, a Harrisburg-based nonprofit won a grant to launch a program that will offer intensive case management to people who are HIV positive. Involving a partnership with two for-profit companies, the program is among the first of its kind.
Alder Health Services, which focuses on providing mental health, primary care and wellness services to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community, received $103,526 on Dec. 1 from Pittsburgh-based Highmark Foundation, an affiliate of Highmark Inc.
The grant is for one year, and will cover the launch of the HIV Treatment Adherence program. Alder, through a partnership with Pittsburgh-based Coordinated Care Network Pharmacy and medical-testing company Quest Diagnostics, is providing the program at its Harrisburg and Lancaster locations.
The HIV Treatment Adherence program is based on a six-month pilot study conducted by Coordinated Care and Philadelphia-based Einstein Medical Center The study found significant positive health outcomes for individuals who were receiving intensive case management for HIV, including treatment observance and assistance with access to medication and instructions for taking it.
“We built this program that Highmark Foundation funded based on this pilot,” said Rosemary Browne, president and CEO of Alder. “What we’re hoping collectively to do is that at the end of this program we will start to have some data we can share about the effectiveness of this more intensive medical case management.”
A component of the program is more frequent blood work, which is where Quest come in.
“They have been generous in offering us a discounted rate on those tests,” Browne said.
The Pennsylvania/MidAtlantic AIDS Education and Training Center, which is housed at the University of Pittsburgh, will evaluate the program.
Alder is hoping to institutionalize the program as one of its core services, according to Browne.
The HIV Treatment Adherence program launches at a time when awareness is being raised within the health care industry about disparities in care for the LGBTQ community in Pennsylvania.
Disparities in LGBTQ health care
In October, the Pennsylvania Medical Society brought to light to studies showing that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals have, on average, worse health outcomes than similar non-LGBT patients.
PAMED is now advocating to expand access to health care for the community, conduct future research on LGBT health care needs and use this research to educate physicians on the best approach to caring for the population.
“When I saw the action that PAMED had taken, I shared that immediately with our medical director and with our psychiatrist here,” Browne said. “The three of us decided collectively to sign on to what the medical society is doing.”
They plan to prepare a letter of support to back the medical society.
Those who work at Alder see firsthand the evidence of health care disparities when it comes to the LGBTQ community.
“One of the things a lot of organizations come to Alder for is to teach them the cultural competency in dealing with transgender individuals,” Browne said.
An example is how to address transgender individuals with appropriate pronouns.
Conversation surrounding the LGBTQ community reached a national level when American television personality and retired Olympic decathlon champion Bruce Jenner, now Caitlin, transitioned from male to female.
Browne recognized that Caitlin Jenner’s announcement was perceived as something of an oddity by most people.
“It wasn’t like, this is a human being who now has to deal with the response from the whole world,” Browne said. “It’s going to take a lot of education and a lot of patience from people who are in this field.”
Alder provides education and wellness, primary care, behavioral health and case management and support to the LGBTQ community and those who are HIV positive.
Browne took over as president and CEO of Alder in September 2014.
So far, Alder is not affected by the budget impasse – yet.
“I’m telling you, if that budget is not passed by Christmas — I think we’re going to really start to feel the pinch,” Browne said. “The next 30 days is going to be crucial.”
Despite the uncertainty, Alder is looking to 2016 as a time to expand its education services to include provider training, hopefully with the help and support of a local health system.
“We are starting to see quite an emergence of providers who are interested in treating LGBT people, and in particular transgender clients, but they have no clue where to start,” Browne said.
Editor’s note: This story has been modified from its original version.