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HRSA Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program at Epicenter of HIV Treatment Locally


It’s certainly not an exaggeration to say we have made notable strides in the treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS over the past four-plus decades in our global, national, regional and local communities. What was once a near-certain cause of premature death during my time in medical school has become a very manageable chronic infection thanks to significant resource investments, scientific advancements in medication protocols, team based care delivery systems, and the advocacy of passionate stakeholders, including patients, families, and dedicated providers and public health champions. Thankfully, many patients with HIV/AIDS now achieve undetectable viral rates, effectively reducing AIDS related illnesses and rendering the virus less transmittable.

Of course, there is still much advocacy to be done to ensure patients with HIV/AIDS are aware of their status and able to access the resources and primary, specialty, and social health services they need to lead long, healthy, happy, and productive lives. Awareness campaigns like National HIV Testing Day remain so very important in our ongoing fight against this horrible disease that has claimed more than 30 million lives globally since the 1980s.

First established in 1995, this year’s National HIV Testing Day will be observed on June 27, with its usual focus on encouraging people to get tested and, if positive, to seek the treatment and support required for them to combat and control the disease.

I’m proud to say that The Wright Centers for Community Health and Graduate Medical Education have long been at the vanguard of HIV/AIDS treatment regionally via our Health Resources and Services Administration funded Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, which for more than 20 years has provided continuous and coordinated HIV/AIDS and infectious disease treatment to patients from within a seven-county service area in Northeast Pennsylvania.

Currently operating out of The Wright Center for Community Health’s clinical hub in South Scranton, our Ryan White HIV/AIDS clinic is led by a first-rate staff of compassionate infectious disease experts, among them Mary Louise Decker, MD, Sister Ruth Neely, CRNP, Karen McKenna, RN, and Shane Cobert, Director of HIV and Preventive Services. These fine, highly qualified people have gratefully been well prepared by the reputable, founding and courageous clinicians Drs. Stephen Pancoast and Shubhra Shetty before they transitioned out of the clinic. 

Because of our Ryan White team’s engagement and resiliency, as well as revolutionary advances in antiretroviral (ATV) therapy, the majority of our Ryan White Clinic patients have notably achieved undetectable viral rates. In addition to providing patients with their critical daily medication regimens, our staff offers a holistic, empowering approach in which medical, behavioral, and social support groups and numerous social engagement activities are also integral to the care experience. 

Understanding the mental and emotional toll of HIV/AIDS, the clinic’s deeply empathetic case management team works tirelessly to ensure patients’ quality-of-life needs are being met. Our case management staff assist patients facing hardships with housing, food, insurance, transportation to appointments, utility assistance, hearing aids, vision care, dental care, and mental health and drug and alcohol rehabilitation services. Our prison linkage program, meanwhile, provides the same extensive health and social services to incarcerated patients with HIV/AIDS and those recently released from prison.

It is really important to note that our services don’t stop at HIV/AIDS treatment. Our clinicians provide confidential sexual health screenings, risk assessments and prevention counseling for those at a high risk of contracting HIV and also HIV testing. Patients at high risk also receive free condoms and have access to Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), a daily pill that has shown to reduce the risk of becoming infected with the virus.

Our trained staff also offer confidential sexually transmitted disease and also Hepatitis C testing and treatment.

Our Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program is continually welcoming new patients. We accept all insurance plans, and work with patients regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay.

Collectively, we have made great strides in the fight against HIV/AIDS, but it’s imperative that we continue to do our part to spread awareness on the importance of reducing transmission risk, getting tested and pursuing treatment. No question, infection with HIV remains a life-changer, but it’s certainly not a life-ender — not by any means. Young people today have never known a world without HIV/AIDS. Hopefully, an effective, game-changing vaccine will change that for future generations.

Linda Thomas-Hemak, M.D., a primary care physician triple board-certified in pediatrics, internal medicine and addiction medicine, leads The Wright Center for Community Health as CEO and serves as President of The Wright Center for Graduate Medical Education. She lives with her family and practices primary care in Jermyn. Send your medical questions to news@thewrightcenter.org.

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