State Health Commissioner Mary E. O'Dowd awarded $8.1 million in federal grants to healthcare facilities around the state for medical and support services to people living with HIV/AIDS, including the Henry J. Austin Health Center in Trenton, which she said exemplifies the kind of comprehensive HIV/AIDS care she wants to promote and expand.
New Jersey will dispense a total of $141 million in state and federal funds for HIV/AIDS in the current fiscal year, including $90 million for free drug treatment to 7,000 HIV/AIDS patients with low and moderate incomes.
The $8.1 million announced Wednesday includes funding for 17 healthcare providers, including the Austin center, that use the "health home" approach and coordinate the full spectrum of services to patients: primary care, home care, transportation, substance abuse treatment, mental health counseling, hospice, and social services.
The federal dollars also include a $1.8 million competitive grant won by New Jersey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which will enable clinics in five cities to buy HIV test kits and hire patient navigators to help those who test positive to enroll in treatment.
"What we are talking about here is taking the money we have and using it better, using it smarter," O'Dowd said. Rather than spread the money around as much as possible, the health commissioner said she "is focusing on those providers that offer the most impactful, comprehensive care across the whole spectrum of services needed by the community. We want to see results with the dollars that we are providing."
Dr. Kemi Alli is chief medical officer of the Austin center, a federally qualified health center that receives both state and federal funding and is a major provider of medical care in Trenton. Alli said the center provides care in a team approach, and recently added behavioral health services as part of its integrated healthcare.
In the past, behavioral health services were provided in a separate department within the building, and the medical team would refer patients there. But it was easy for the patients "to just walk right by that office and out the building," Alli said. "Now the behavioral health provider is with the primary care provider in one integrated team. So when the patient goes to see that primary care doctor, behavioral health is provided right there at that point of care."
O'Dowd said the number of new cases of HIV/AIDS diagnosed in New Jersey has declined 68 percent since 2000. In 2010, there were 1,780 new cases in the state, and today about 45,000 New Jerseyans are living with the disease.
African Americans make up 14 percent of the state's population, but 54 percent of those with HIV/AIDS, O'Dowd said. From 2007 to 2009, the rate of diagnosis for African American women was 32 times higher than for white women, and 70 percent of children with the disease are African American.
Sean Laramore, 36, was diagnosed two years ago at the Austin center and now advocates for HIV/AIDS testing, which is recommended for everyone age 13 and older. "I live with this every day," Laramore said.
"If people don't continue to focus on this issue, if you pretend it is going away, then you take our eye off the ball." O'Dowd said. "This is not a disease that is going away."