The Damien Center's winter newsletter is now online! Click "read more" below to see what's been happening at the Center over these last few months:
Our New York State Government successes in 2015 to help us reduce new HIV infections and stop deaths from AIDS
A message from our ED, Perry Junjulas:
Congratulations to Governor Cuomo on his historic efforts in 2015 to End the AIDS Epidemic in NYS. This progress makes me proud to be a New Yorker who is also living with AIDS. The Damien Centers will continue to work with the Governor and the Legislature in 2016 to increase our efforts in the upstate New York Capital Region to reduce new HIV infections and stop deaths from AIDS.
Below is an excerpt from the Governor’s recently released State of Opportunity, End of Year Report 2015 (pages 28-29). Full report is found at: https://www.governor.ny.gov/sites/governor.ny.gov/files/atoms/files/EOY_Report.pdf
Strengthening Our State’s Healthcare System
Ending the AIDS Epidemic in New York State: On World AIDS Day, Governor Cuomo announced $200 million in new funding towards HIV/AIDS efforts, supplementing the $2.5 billion the state currently directs towards HIV/AIDS. In 2014, the Governor announced a plan to end AIDS as an epidemic in New York State with the goal of decreasing new HIV infections to 750 per year by 2020 and achieving our first ever decrease in HIV prevalence.
Notable achievements include:
GOVERNOR CUOMO TAKES ACTION TO IMPLEMENT HIS PLAN TO END THE AIDS EPIDEMIC IN NEW YORK STATE BY THE END OF 2020
For Immediate Release: 7/8/2015
GOVERNOR ANDREW M. CUOMO
State of New York | Executive Chamber
Andrew M. Cuomo | Governor
GOVERNOR CUOMO TAKES ACTION TO IMPLEMENT HIS PLAN TO END THE AIDS EPIDEMIC IN NEW YORK STATE BY THE END OF 2020
Announcement made at the Ending AIDS 2020: Blueprint to Action Conference
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that major steps are being taken across the state to implement the Governor’s plan to end AIDS as an epidemic in New York State by the end of 2020. The Governor received the final blueprint for this goal from his “Ending the Epidemic Task Force” just two months ago, and today’s actions represent the first major steps forward toward full implementation of the plan’s three main pillars. Those three pillars are: (1) expanding HIV testing, (2) ensuring that everyone with HIV can get treatment, and (3) increasing the availability of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), a medication that helps HIV-negative individuals reduce their risk of becoming infected. Members of Governor Cuomo's administration will attend a conference today entitled Ending AIDS 2020: Blueprint to Action, where they will discuss the goals and strategies of this plan.
“Today, we are taking action to help stop new HIV infections and make the AIDS epidemic a relic of the past in New York state," Governor Cuomo said. "By enacting these key parts our action plan, we are creating a national model to battle the spread of this disease and end this nightmare once and for all."
In April, Governor Cuomo accepted the blueprint for executing his plan from the state’s Ending the Epidemic Task Force and has begun implementing its recommendations with the overall goal of reducing the annual number of new HIV infections to just 750 (from an estimated 3,000) by the end of 2020 and achieve New York’s first ever decrease in HIV prevalence.
“New York was once the epicenter of the AIDS epidemic, but thanks to the work of Governor Cuomo and the state’s Ending the Epidemic Task Force, we are now a national leader in pushing rates of infection to sub-epidemic levels” said New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker. “The blueprint to end AIDS as an epidemic lays out a comprehensive plan to win this battle and with this funding, we can begin its implementation.”
Funding Community-Based Clinics and Promoting PrEP
The Governor is directing $3 million in funding toward the goal of linking up to 1,000 people from the populations at greatest risk for HIV/AIDS to PrEP. These populations include gay men, men who have sex with men (MSM), transgender individuals, and serodiscordant couples – those in which one partner lives with HIV/AIDS and the other does not.
Another $600,000 is being used to support a statewide public awareness campaign entitled “HIV Prevention Just Got Easier – one pill once a day can protect you from HIV.” The campaign began in early June and coincides with events across the state celebrating LGBT Pride Month. Ads and billboards can be seen throughout the State and to date, educators have given out more than 30,000 brochures, palm cards, and other promotional items that provide vital information about PrEP and how to obtain it. This campaign will also include sites along the route of the New York City Pride March.
Increasing Viral Suppression Rates
The Governor is also directing the Department of Health to work with relevant agencies to take steps to increase viral suppression rates. Specifically, access to prevention and other testing methods are being made available to support programs statewide that are focused on providing young gay men and MSM, a population that continues to be disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS, with a comprehensive range of HIV prevention services. These include counseling and testing services which use new technologies to detect infections much earlier. Already, these services are being provided within the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision facilities to identify and link HIV positive inmates to care. It is estimated that as many as 1,000 inmates are HIV infected and not in care. These efforts promote engagement in care, individual viral suppression and a coordinated transition into the community with no gaps in treatment or care.
The Governor’s administration is also cross referencing between the State’s Medicaid and HIV registries to identify people who are not virally suppressed and link them to care and treatment. Once identified these individuals are provided with support to re-engage them in care and promote positive health outcomes. It is anticipated that these efforts will link up to 10,000 individuals to life-saving treatment that will improve their health and achieve viral suppression.
Identifying Undiagnosed Persons and Linking Them to Care and Treatment
To expand access to HIV testing, the Governor has also directed the Department of Health to conduct a statewide review of hospitals with emergency departments across the State. The review of HIV testing policies and the medical charts of 5,000 patients will ensure compliance with the state’s HIV testing law which requires that every New Yorker between the ages of 13-64 is offered an HIV test.
These efforts are in conjunction with existing public health practices that support a reduction in new infections, increased access to care and targeted prevention through behavioral and biomedical interventions is moving New York State closer to ending the epidemic.
For more information please go to www.health.ny.gov/ete.
Additional news available at www.governor.ny.gov
New York State | Executive Chamber |firstname.lastname@example.org | 518.474.8418
The following article was published in the March 24, 2015 edition of The Times Union under the title "Legislators Seek More HIV, AIDS Program Funding." Scroll down for full article:
Legislators seek more HIV, AIDS program funding
by: Matthew Hamilton
In a letter to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, more than 30 members of the Black, Puerto Rican, Latino and Asian Legislative Caucus — and other lawmakers — urge legislative leaders to increase funding for HIV and AIDS programs.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has allotted $10 million in his budget for his End the Epidemic initiative. He also has earmarked nearly $440 million in JP Morgan mortgage settlement funds for rental assistance for HIV and AIDS patients.
But legislators say more is needed to address the deadly disease statewide and to stop its spread in minority communities.
"Arguably, nowhere is the impact more pervasive than in communities of color," the lawmakers wrote. They said that they want "more substantial resources," but don't ask for a specific dollar amount. "Every statistical measure has shown that race is a significant factor in calculating risk for contracting HIV, and the disparity has only widened over time," the letter says.
A state Department of Health study released last year showed that there were 55,546 members of the black community statewide living with HIV or AIDS as of December 2012. The number for the Hispanic community was 42,287. The white community had 27,497 cases.
A majority of New Yorkers living with HIV or AIDS reside in New York City. In Albany County, there were 1,020 HIV and AIDS cases, excluding the prison population. Rensselaer County had 240 cases, Schenectady County had 380 cases and Saratoga County had 169 cases, bringing the four-county total to 1,809.
Newly diagnosed HIV cases statewide fell to 3,316 in 2012 from 5,666 in 2000, the earliest recorded date in the study. New AIDS cases across New York decreased from a high of 14,636 in 1993 to 2,370 in 2012.
The decline was highlighted by Cuomo last year when he announced plans for his End the Epidemic initiative, which included assisting undiagnosed HIV patients find health care, getting patients on anti-HIV therapy and providing high-risk people with HIV prevention drugs.
"Thirty years ago, New York was the epicenter of the AIDS crisis," Cuomo said at the time. "Today I am proud to announce that we are in a position to be the first state in the nation committed to ending this epidemic."
The governor set a goal of limiting new HIV infections to no more than 750 by 2020.
Cuomo's End the Epidemic Task Force is waiting for him to accept a series of recommendations that include providing housing assistance for some HIV and AIDS patients and the passage of a bill that would prohibit discrimination against transgender New Yorkers.
The lawmakers' letter said that fully implementing the task force's plan would lead to averting 10,851 new HIV infections and save the state nearly $4 billion in public health spending.
"Other states, and we've gotten inquiries from other parts of the world, are looking to us to say, 'Can you share this plan?'" said Perry Junjulas, executive director of the Albany Damien Center and a task force member. "It's really where New York has an opportunity, as the state that is most impacted by HIV in the United States, to really be a leader in ending this epidemic."
The following Op-ed piece was originally published in the March 6, 2015 edition of the Albany Times Union under the title, "Ambitious Goal to End AIDS Is Achievable in New York" (scroll down for full article):
Gov. Andrew Cuomo last June delivered a bold and seemingly audacious statement - that New York would become the first state in the nation to end its 35-year AIDS epidemic by the year 2020. Even without a cure, new treatment and prevention tools have finally placed this goal within our reach. And just last week, the governor demonstrated the seriousness of his commitment to a comprehensive solution by adding funding to his 30-day budget amendments for this year.
For those of us who have been in the fight since the beginning, the governor’s new commitment brings back memories of another Gov. Cuomo—Mario. In 1983, just six months into his first term in office—and when AIDS was still viewed as a “gay disease—Mario Cuomo signed into law a bill that created the state Department of Health’s AIDS Institute with $5.2 million in funding, along with the AIDS Advisory Council, making New York the first state in the country to launch a centralized response to the epidemic. In each year that followed, his administration added more resources, enacted stronger civil-rights protections and enhanced programs. By the end of the governor’s tenure, New York had created the most robust HIV/AIDS prevention and care infrastructure in the world.
So it is fitting that Andrew Cuomo is now leading the way with a bold vision to build on his father’s achievements by propelling New York to historic prominence in the fight to end the epidemic. The governor’s successful Medicaid redesign, along with expanded access to healthcare, new tools for HIV care, and renewed government and community commitment, now make it possible to reduce the number of New Yorkers living with HIV the first time in over three decades.
To achieve the governor’s goal, we must reduce the number of new HIV infections from approximately 3,000 this year to 750 by 2020. While this is no easy feat, New York has already reduced its annual rate of new HIV infections by 40 percent in the last decade, while the U.S. saw no decline at all.
To advance his plan, Cuomo appointed an Ending the Epidemic Task Force comprised of experts on HIV/AIDS from the public and private health sectors, and from community organizations. After months of intensive meetings, research and public input, the task force developed a blueprint of recommendations for meeting the governor’s mandate.
If New York is to end this epidemic, we must double the number of people with HIV who receive the continuous antiretroviral therapy necessary to remain healthy and unable to transmit the virus to others; housing and transportation services for low-income people with HIV must be expanded; laws to expand access to syringes and condoms must be reformed; Access to HIV-prevention tools like pre- and post-exposure chemoprophylaxis (PEP and PrEP) for those at high risk must be expanded; and minors must be able to consent to prevention and treatment.
These are just some of the aggressive yet necessary actions recommended by the governor’s task force. Most importantly, achieving this ambitious yet reachable goal will require a steadfast, ongoing commitment by both the governor and the Legislature to translate ideas into action: the blueprint must be embraced and the necessary resources must be provided for implementation.
Yes, our expectations are high, but so are the stakes. Since the governor’s announcement last June, other states, such as Washington and Minnesota, have made public commitments to end AIDS. To continue to lead this historic movement, New York must take the bold and decisive steps that can become the model for national and global action.
Ending AIDS is not just the right thing to do for the health of New Yorkers. It will also be a game-changer for the state budget. Full implementation of the task force’s recommendations is expected to generate $5.1 billion in total public healthcare savings around the state, including nearly $4 billion in savings from averted HIV infections. An additional $1.1 billion in savings can be generated by housing the 12,000 homeless and unstably-housed people living with HIV statewide.
New York has a unique opportunity to show the world that it is the visionary leader the global HIV movement has long awaited. The epicenter of the epidemic in the United States has always been New York, but the heart of AIDS activism and progress has also always been New York, and now it is time for New York to be the first to end AIDS altogether.
By: Perry Junjulas, Executive Director of the Albany & Schenectady Damien Centers and a person with AIDS; Charles King, President & CEO of Housing Works; Mark Harrington, Executive Director of Treatment Action Groups; and Kelsey Louis, CEO of Gay Men’s Health Crisis. All four were members of the Ending the Epidemic Task Force, with King serving as its community co-chair.
By Perry Junjulas, Executive Director of The Albany Damien Center
As a person living with AIDS, I feel very privileged to be here today. Far too many of our friends, many of whom are here today in spirit only, did not have this opportunity.
Back 20 years ago, I was given 3 months to live. I firmly believe that I survived because I live in New York State and had access to life saving programs offered by the Department of Health, such as the AIDS Drug Assistance Program, and services provided by community organizations like the Albany Damien Center.
We are truly at a watershed moment in the history of the AIDS epidemic in New York State. We have an opportunity to implement a blueprint through the Governor’s Ending the Epidemic Task Force, which will not only save lives, but put us on a direct highway to an AIDS Free generation. Early in the epidemic, we were often lost, traveling through wooded fields trying to survive. We now thankfully have the science and tools to end this epidemic, something we, as people living with AIDS dreamed about from the moment we found out we were infected with HIV.
But still today, too many people go without lifesaving treatment and support. In New York State, we still have roughly 61% of people living with HIV who are not virally suppressed, meaning that they are not fully accessing our tools to help people survive. Over time, we have seen much complacency in the public as they think we have a cure, while poverty, stigma, isolation, and other social determinants of health continue to ravage our community to create barriers to care.
At the Damien Centers of Albany and Schenectady, we work in the Capital Region to ensure each person living with HIV/AIDS has unfettered access to the care and support they deserve in a comfortable and supportive community center setting, while working to prevent new HIV infections. We are one of the few HIV specific organizations that have remained standing in NYS, as funding for AIDS specific programs has decreased dramatically over time.
On behalf of people living with HIV and AIDS, I call upon all of us to redouble our efforts to end this epidemic. This is our time to realize what so many people living with HIV and AIDS had dreamed of – a world where new HIV infections are rare, and if they do happen, that each person has unfettered access to the care and support they deserve. Get tested, treat early, and stay safe!
Schenectady Damien Center changes hands
Printed Friday, August 8, 2014
By Bethany Bump Gazette Reporter
SCHENECTADY — Schenectady residents living with HIV and AIDS will have more community resources than ever this fall, when the Albany Damien Center launches a satellite center in a familiar space.
The Albany center was founded in 1990 as one of the first AIDS drop-in centers in the nation. It opened a branch in Schenectady the next year, followed by a branch in Troy the year after that. Funding challenges in 1994 prompted a takeover of those branches by separate organizations. Schenectady Inner City Ministry assumed operations of the Schenectady branch and Troy Area United Ministries took over the Troy branch.
Two decades later, the Albany Damien Center is ready to take back control of the Schenectady center, which has had its own struggles over the years, from relocations to an attic fire to a suspension of services two years ago.
“This has been in the works for a while,” said SICM’s executive director, the Rev. Phil Grigsby. “Over the years, we talked about recombining the centers. It seemed the right time, given the changing face of AIDS and the Albany Damien Center has many best practices that we don’t have the resources to do here.”
When SICM suspended services two years ago, it was still able to offer meals at the site and link people to other support services in the area, like Ellis Medicine, Mohawk Opportunities and the AIDS Council of Northeastern New York. But it was no longer able to offer the kind of comprehensive support the other Damien Centers could.
Under the new arrangement, SICM will still own and maintain the center at 615 Nott St., a nondescript building across from Union College. But the Albany Damien Center will bring in its own staff and array of programs, ranging from prevention counseling and nutritional education to vocational rehabilitative training and even pet care for those afraid to leave animals home alone while they seek treatment.
To help get everything up and running again, Ellis Medicine President and CEO Jim Connolly on Thursday presented a check for $15,000 to the Albany Damien Center.
“We’re starting slow, and we hope to grow,” said Albany Damien Center Executive Director Perry Junjulas.
A fire that ripped through the Albany center in August 2013 forced its temporary relocation to First Lutheran Church in Albany. At the time, Junjulas said he even thought about relocating the whole operation to Schenectady.
“Space-wise, we just wouldn’t have fit,” he said.
But a bigger Schenectady space could be in the works. As part of its long-range plan, the Damien Center is building a new Albany center that includes not just space for headquarters and programs, but also housing for 22 people living with HIV/AIDS who are unstably housed. This should open by December 2015. The hope, Junjulas said, is to do the same thing in Schenectady.
“Safe, affordable housing is the No. 1 need for persons living with AIDS right now,” he said, “so this is definitely an area the Damien Center is heading in.”
Because of the Troy center’s proximity to Albany, Junjulas said it’s less likely they would take over that branch, but they are looking at the possibility of opening centers elsewhere in the region. Among the possible sites for new centers are Amsterdam, Glens Falls and Hudson — all cities with a high concentration of individuals living with AIDS.
Schenectady’s biggest need right now, he said, is raising awareness of preventative measures among its population of young, sexually active gay men of color.
“Part of our dream is having new HIV infections become rare,” he said. “And if they do happen, we want that person to get the right care fast, so they can live a full life.”
We have planned our first Community Meeting for Wednesday, July 16, 2014 here at the First Lutheran Church from 6 PM to 8 PM. The meeting is to inform the neighborhood of our plans for the new Center and hear discussion on the impact in the community.
The first 8 months of 2013 was “business as usual” as we worked to help individuals and families living with HIV/AIDS improve their health and quality of life. Our attendance continued to grow strong and over 130 volunteers helped us serve each person in a caring, grassroots approach.
Life quickly changed for us in late August as we lost our building and all its contents in a devastating fire. We quickly found the fire brought out the absolute best in our local community,with an unprecedented level of giving of time, talent, and treasure to help us get back on our feet. In the end, the fire did not define us as much as it showed our incredible strength to rise “out of the ashes” as a vital resource in our community.
The 15 years we spent at our building at 12 South Lake Avenue were truly special and we will always fondly remember all the
wonderful people who walked through those front doors to either receive services or provide help to our members in need. In the end, the Damien Center is more than a building - it is a true spirit of community and caring that will be stronger as time goes on as long as we are together and working to help people in need.
Stigma, poverty, illness, and isolation continue to prevent our members from achieving improved physical, mental, and spiritual health. We remain committed, with your help, to be there for each person who wants to overcome these obstacles and positively live
Thank you for your incredible support. We look forward to working with all of you as we enter the next chapter in helping those in our community struggling with HIV/AIDS who deserve our help!