Positive Link HIV Services has helped people living with HIV since 1994. With the grand opening of its new health clinic, Positive Link will be able to offer clinical care for the first time.
Positive Link is a program of IU Health Bloomington Hospital Community Health. It offers preventative services through education on HIV/AIDS and testing, as well as direct services for those affected by the disease.
“This is the first time that we'll actually be able to do clinical service for our clients,” said Carol Weiss-Kennedy, director of community health for IU Health Bloomington. “Many of our clients usually wait to get into primary care or to see their specialist, and that takes quite a while. Or, they're going to Indianapolis or somewhere else for their care."
About 30 people gathered for the grand opening. The ceremony included tours of the facility, remarks from staff at Positive Link and a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Weiss-Kennedy said that previously, Positive Link was only able to offer services for prevention and care coordination, which meant connecting people with other social services. The clinic will now provide billed services, meaning that clients’ insurance can be billed for the costs.
Positive Link is remaining in the same building on East Miller Drive and South Henderson Street, but it will now be open for clinical services every Tuesday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Weiss-Kennedy said they have the potential to add more if the need is there.
Weiss-Kennedy said part of the importance of the clinic is its accessibility. The clinic is on the bus line, making it more available to the community.
Julie Hiles, a care coordinator at Positive Link, led a small group on a tour of the exam room they will be utilizing. She spoke with people on the tour about what the clinic meant for Positive Link.
“We’re in a much more stable place now,” Hiles said.
Hiles began the ribbon-cutting ceremony by talking about the history of Positive Link. She began working there in 1994. At the time, Positive Link did not have a name and there were only four staff members, two of whom were part-time.
Holes said HIV/AIDS was a whole different ballgame in 1994 than it is today.
“When I first started as a care coordinator, most of my job was essentially planning funerals and helping people get on disability, and there wasn’t a lot of hope at that time," Hiles said.
Hiles said that with good leadership, Positive Link has gone from planning funerals to working with people to get them back to work and having their own children and families.
Jill Stowers, clinical lead manager of community health at Positive Link, said that historically, people have only wished for a vaccine or cure for HIV/AIDS to come along. Now, Stowers said, there’s another way.
they had scientific evidence that people who are HIV-positive and have an undetectable viral load, meaning less than 200 copies of HIV genetic material per milliliter of blood, cannot transmit the disease.
Stowers said the CDC's statement is a game-changer. That, coupled with , a medicine that can reduce the risk of getting HIV from sex by more than 90 percent, means that people who are at risk for HIV infection can prevent infection.
“When you take those two things together, that's a different way,” Stowers said. “It doesn't have to be a vaccine, it doesn't have to be a cure. There's another way that we can stop the spread of this disease.”
Stowers said the clinic being open once a week is small, but it’s something.
“It's filling a gap in our community, and it's definitely something that we're going to be measuring the outcomes of and looking at the impact that we're able to make,” she said.
After a short congratulation from Teri deMatas, vice president for marketing and community relations at IU Health Bloomington Hospital, Stowers invited a few people for whom she was especially thankful to help her cut the red ribbon.
"My hope, my dream is that this grows and we're able to do more and more and that we truly are able to stop the spread of this disease," Stowers said.