The HIV/AIDS Alliance for Region Two Inc. will branch out from its traditional focus and offer new services for uninsured and underinsured people with general health problems, thanks to a new federal government grant.
The federal government awarded HAART more than $500,000 this week as part of an attempt to help medically underserved areas and open new health care sites across America. HAART will now provide primary care, behavioral health care and oral care to people in Baton Rouge regardless of their ability to pay. A sliding scale will be used for billing based on income level.
“This will allow us to expand our treatment to populations we have not been treating,” said HAART Chief Executive Officer Timothy Young.
HAART will continue to operate under its current name that references HIV/AIDS for contracts and legal purposes, but the nonprofit soon will start a rebranding campaign to better reflect its new focus. They will operate their new services under a to-be-determined name.
Young called the expansion of services “the next big thing” for HAART in order to keep serving the community.
East Baton Rouge is designated as a medically underserved area and a health professional shortage area.
Before receiving the money this week, HAART already provided a few services to the general population. HAART offers primary medical care at the Caring Clinic of Louisiana on North Boulevard.
When people go to HAART, the organization will now set them up with primary care doctors, licensed social workers or counselors, depending on their needs.
HAART’s traditional HIV/AIDS focus is still correlated with general health in the community, though. The new focus toward the general public will help bring in people who had limited access to medical care and may need to be tested and treated for HIV/AIDS.
The Baton Rouge Area Foundation’s 2015 City Stats show that Baton Rouge has seen the number of new HIV cases decline by 18 percent since 2008.
Baton Rouge still has among the highest AIDS rates in the nation.
Three-fourths of the city’s AIDS cases are minorities who have historically struggled to access health care, Young said. Someone who has an untreated infection is more likely to contract HIV, he said.
Young said many people wait until they see symptoms before they get tested for HIV/AIDS. About a third of newly diagnosed people in Baton Rouge already have progressed to the AIDS virus by the time they are diagnosed.
It is more expensive and difficult to treat someone with AIDS rather than someone with the earlier stages of HIV, Young said.
But some people wait to be tested because they do not want to be stigmatized for their HIV status, he said.
“They are still looked at as pariahs among society, and there is a lack of general education about the highly effective treatment for people with HIV,” Young said.
He noted that people with HIV can still live normal, full life spans with the right treatment.