Project STAY, an initiative of the Harlem Heath Promotion Center (HHPC) at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and New York-Presbyterian’s Comprehensive Health Program have received two grants totaling more than $3.75 million from the New York State Department of Health AIDS Institute for their continued efforts to prevent HIV/AIDS in at-risk youth. The funds will be disbursed over five years, starting July 1, for comprehensive health programs targeting at-risk populations in New York City.
[Photo: Dr. Alwyn T. Cohall]
Project STAY provides confidential health services to people between the ages of 13 and 24 who are affected by HIV/AIDS and has two components: the Specialized Care Center, which serves HIV-positive youth, and the Youth Access Program, which conducts community outreach and screening and provides information about medical and mental health services for young people engaged in risk-taking behaviors.
“We’re extremely grateful to receive these funds,” said Dr. Alwyn T. Cohall, director of the HHPC and Project STAY, and professor of Sociomedical Sciences at the Mailman School of Public Health and professor of Pediatrics at Columbia University Medical Center. “Our main challenge is to identify individuals in need of care and to treat them as soon as possible. Another big goal of ours is preventive care. Nothing will help stop the AIDS epidemic more than preventing the disease in the first place.”
To do that, the programs offer education and screenings for HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases and linkages to care at local schools and colleges, workforce development agencies and programs serving LGBTQ youth. Dr. Cohall and his team also use peer-to-peer outreach to help identify where high-risk behaviors are taking place and to refer others for testing, sexual health and primary care services.
“We try to use as many modalities as possible, including social media,” said Dr. Cohall. “These methods have proven very effective in targeting at-risk youth and pointing others to care. For at-risk youth, the window of opportunity to make an impact is very small and is due to many different factors – lack of awareness, access to services or money, as well as the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS – so we have to get creative with our outreach.”
These awards have helped underwrite a new collaboration with Harlem United, a federally qualified health center and a member of NewYork-Presbyterian’s Delivery System Reform Incentive Payment (DSRIP) partnership. Harlem United has a mobile medical van that serves as a “health clinic on wheels.” Project STAY staff will coordinate services with Harlem United to provide screening, acute treatment and blood testing. The van will reach young people who are most at risk for HIV/AIDS, including transgender youth and men who have sex with men in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan.
“Project STAY has been and continues to be an institution-wide initiative,” said Dr. Cohall. “We are able to use the combined resources at NewYork-Presbyterian and Columbia University Medical Center – nurses, social workers and psychiatrists, as well as interdisciplinary students from various fields including public health, nursing, social work and pre-med – to offer the most top-notch and responsive care possible. This is an incredibly useful resource for the institution and the entire New York City community. It’s a working example of how collaboration with community-based DSRIP partners such as Harlem United, among others, can be utilized to help reduce the community burden of disease. It shows that by working as a team, we can do some pretty amazing things.”