The University at Albany has been awarded nearly $1 million for the creation of a five-year, comprehensive program aimed at preventing HIV infections and substance use disorders among students.
The Achieving College Completion through Engaged Support Services program (Project ACCESS) will provide timely and responsive HIV prevention services to students, particularly those from the LGBTQ+ community and racial and ethnic backgrounds that are historically at higher risk for HIV and substance use disorders associated with health disparities.
Young adults under age 24 comprise more than one-fifth of all new HIV diagnoses in the United States, according to Dolores Cimini, director of the Center for Behavioral Health Promotion and Applied Research. Compounding the issue is that young people between the ages of 16 and 25 years of age are also at risk for substance use-related negative effects, making it important for researchers and service providers to address both concerns using a comprehensive prevention approach.
As part of Project ACCESS, trained students who have experienced substance abuse disorders or HIV firsthand will assist their fellow students by linking them to specialized behavioral health services and vital medical services. In addition, Project ACCESS will hire a “prevention navigator” to support BIPOC and LGBTQ+ students in accessing these behavioral and medical services in a timely and responsive manner, thus supporting students in accessing broader higher education opportunities, completing college and continuing progress towards advanced study and entry into the workforce.
“This funding comes at a very timely juncture at UAlbany,” said Cimini, who is leading the project with associate professor Jessica L. Martin of the School of Education. “Our BIPOC and LGBTQ+ students are voicing the need for specialized services across areas that align with this grant, and it is also responsive to the current focus on health disparities by the University at Albany and New York State,” Cimini continued.
Martin, who also serves as counseling psychology division director, added, “We believe that this is the first grant under this funding mechanism that is housed within a higher education institution, uniquely positioning UAlbany to advance innovation aimed to support both health and well-being and diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
Albany Medical Center, the Alliance for Positive Health and the Damien Center will partner on the project, which began on August 31, 2021 and is expected to continue through 2026. Those interested in the learning more about Project ACCESS should contact Dolores Cimini at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The new program joins the growing list of comprehensive and innovative initiatives at UAlbany. In September, the University officially became a Health Promoting University, a designation bestowed on only nine universities in the country.
The projects, led by teams made up of faculty from both schools, include Pilates workshops, photo series, and oral history performances.
Devin English, assistant professor in the Department of Urban-Global Public Health, and Frederick Curry, associate professor and interim chair in the Department of Dance, will examine the psychosocial impact of Polestar Pilates classes in three socioeconomically diverse public high schools in New Jersey. English and Curry hope that their intervention will help address anxiety and depression, which is experienced by nearly 70 percent of U.S. teens.
To address HIV-related stigma, Ashley Grosso, assistant professor in the Department of Urban-Global Public Health, and Jacqueline Thaw, associate professor and director of the Master of Fine Arts program in design in the Department of Art & Design, will use Photovoice, a research method that engages people to create, discuss, and share photographs of their own lived experience. This approach is meant to raise awareness about the complex realities that marginalized populations confront. The team will focus on gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men, who bear a disproportionate burden of HIV, and who HIV-related stigma often hinders from seeking, or from receiving, treatment and preventative care.
Resilience and HIV/AIDS researchers Kristen Krause, instructor in the Department of Urban-Global Public Health, and Stephanie Shiau, assistant professor in the Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, will work with Jeff Friedman, associate professor in the Department of Dance, to develop an oral history workshop and performance by people living with HIV/AIDS. Their project aims to explore biopsychosocial health outcomes and resilience in both oral history documentary interviews and via a performance of dance or movement.
“These collaborative projects exemplify how the arts and humanities can work effectively with public health to advance the work in each of these disciplines,” says Perry N. Halkitis, dean of the Rutgers School of Public Health. “The work that Rutgers School of Public Health faculty are enacting with Mason Gross School of Arts faculty are indicative of the inter-and multidisciplinary efforts that must define all of our work if we are to have maximum effectiveness in our endeavors to advance health equity and the well-being of all people and populations.”
The projects will aim to address some of the five urgent public health issues, which include social exclusion and isolation, chronic disease, racism, mental health, and collective trauma, identified as priorities for cross-sector work in ae report issued by the Creating Healthy Communities: Arts + Public Health in America Initiative.
“These projects illustrate the power of collaboration and highlight the role that the arts can play in helping shape public health outcomes,” says Jason Geary, dean of the Mason Gross School of the Arts. “The challenges that we face as a global society are so profound and interconnected that they demand insights from every perspective, and that’s where the arts can be transformative in so many ways.”
“The Rutgers School of Public Health is excited to provide seed funding in support of interdisciplinary cross-university collaboration to promote public health through artistic mediums,” says Katie Zapert, director of research at the Rutgers School of Public Health, who developed the call for project proposals.
On October 23, 2017, Positive Women sponsored a National Day to End Violence Against Women Living with HIV. For women of color living with HIV, there are many barriers to care. Through supportive services, the “Ryan White program and Medicaid, among others, have been essential to assuring access to health care and treatment for women living with HIV (WLHIV).” This program, through a variety of grant programs, has become a lifeline to necessary medical and social support services.”
“Minority women comprise the majority of Ryan White clients, 61.8 percent are African American women while Latinas account for 19.2 percent.” Statistics highlight overrepresentation of women of color utilizing services from this programming and point to the need for program expansion and legislation advocacy. “
Through these programming, policy and legislation efforts, comprehensive care is available to people who would not otherwise be able to afford it.
A recent survey of Positive Women’s Network (PWN) USA’s membership (N=250) showed that “44% relied on Medicaid, 33% on Ryan White (non-ADAP), and 24% on the Ryan White AIDS Drugs Assistance program. Both the Ryan White program and Medicaid require women living with HIV to be poor in order to qualify for services.”
This year’s theme centers on economic security, health, and violence. Lack of access to comprehensive and supportive services and programming for women of color living with HIV leaves them with few options to fulfill basic needs.
You can’t access what you don’t have
The Indiana Credentialing Association on Alcohol & Drug Abuse (ICAADA) hosted a six-hour training course entitled “HIV-AIDS Training for Substance Abuse Professionals.” Covering goals such as understanding HIV/AIDS, risk, and Hepatitis C, the following statistics are offered as takeaways from the training:
Indiana is a low incidence state, with an estimated 10,000 total persons living with HIV/AIDS
Illinois has an estimated 37,592 total persons living with HIV/AIDS
Marion and Lake County are two highest reporting counties in the state
Marion County (Indianapolis, etc) reported 4,986 total persons living with HIV/AIDS
Lake County (Gary, Hammond, Merrillville, East Chicago, etc) reported 1,174 total persons living with HIV/AIDS
St. Joseph’s County is the third largest reporting county in the state with 628 total persons living with HIV/AIDS
*Marion County Public Health Department Ryan White HIV Services Program Annual Report: Indiana Persons Living with HIV Disease as of December 31, 2016
Among the grant areas for the Ryan White HIV Services Program in Indiana, Marion County was among the targeted ten counties. Lake County was not identified as a county receiving funding, therefore leaving women in color in this county to utilize Medicaid among “other” programming and services.
Driving distance to the closest county receiving funding for those that can not afford medical care is an hour and a half by car. Some of the funded services include medical case management, substance/use abuse services, health education/risk reduction, legal services, psychosocial support services, only to name a few.
The Ryan White Program stands as an integral social safety net, without this funding it is unclear how counties are ensuring economic security, access to healthcare and programming and support against violence.
Understanding that intersecting barriers interfere with women of color living with HIV, “ability to adhere to medical regimens” focus on their whole care, manage households– for instance, will help organizers, advocates, policymakers, program developers, and health care providers plan and develop more intentional care, programming and legislation. A reflection on cultural competency yielded the following barriers to receiving, accessing and remaining in care:
Women experience gender roles and sex and sexuality differently from men.
Level of education, fear of physical abuse and, more generally, gender inequality in relationships are all factors in seeking and staying in care
Women of color face greater challenges at the intersections of stigma and criminalization, related to living with HIV within the family, school, and community.
In addition, “for them, having HIV/AIDS is just one more overwhelming problem to deal with, behind providing food and a place to live for their children; keeping the lights on; and, often, other medical issues, such as diabetes, mental health issues, substance abuse, and even managing the health needs of a child who was born with HIV.”
Further evaluation and data are needed on the unique experiences and challenges of women of color living with HIV. Given that this program is geared towards individuals that would not be able to afford care, and Due to overrepresentation, a review of utilization, effectiveness and reach are needed relating to HIV/AIDS services in Lake County, Indiana, and nationally, for women of color. The identified gap in critical funding for services and support within this county amplifies the inequalities at these intersections.
As services disappear or are nonexistent in local areas, the Positive Women’s Network launches it’s #PWNCares campaign which seeks to fill a gap as stated by Naina Khanna, Executive Director of PWN-USA.
“Feeling alone is a major barrier to engagement and retention in care. Many women, especially outside of major urban centers, may not know any other women living with HIV. Our goal is to provide them the tools, knowledge, and support they need to make healthy decisions for themselves and live life to the fullest – while also offering a pathway to a national community of women living with HIV.”
The Positive Women Network’s flash blog series highlights stories from women that have received support from the network. Follow them on twitter@uspwn and at #PWNCares , to find out how to get involved on this day of action. You can raise your awareness on this issue by checking out the “Intro Flash blog to End Violence Against #WLHIV”