The red ribbon out front of Positively Living's new office space wasn't for remembrance or awareness this time.
Board members and local dignitaries cut the ribbon Thursday afternoon to celebrate a new venture for the nonprofit, which serves people who are HIV-positive and have other challenges: Choice Health Network, a medical clinic for people with HIV.
The new clinic, which will be open to anyone with HIV, is in Suite 209 at the Regency Business Park, 900 Hill Avenue east of downtown Knoxville. It will provide both primary and infectious disease care, said medical director Dr. Dan Ely.
Ely, who also has a private practice and is on faculty at the University of Tennessee graduate school of medicine, will oversee the clinic, which will have a full-time physician assistant and a part-time nurse practitioner. Through telehealth, they'll also be able to see patients at satellite Choice Health Network clinics in Morristown and Chattanooga, said Positively Living CEO Steve Jenkins.
Ely said the care at HIV network will be "one-stop shopping for people with HIV," offering primary care, HIV care and even care for hepatitis C and sexually transmitted diseases.
The clinic will accept all patients – with or without insurance – but is targeting those "who have fallen away from care," Ely said, whether because of the pathology of their illness or because of other circumstances (money, transportation, addiction or homelessness, for example).
And along with medical care, he added, they'll have case management through Positively Living, which can also help them apply for TennCare/Medicaid and Ryan White services if they qualify.
Gay Lyons photographs local dignitaries waiting to cut the ribbon to open Positively Living's new Choice Health Network clinic for people with HIV Thursday afternoon in Regency Business Park, just east of downtown.(Photo: Kristi L. Nelson/News Sentinel)
Jenkins said the nonprofit had explored opening a clinic for a few years. It will operate as a line item in Positively Living's regular budget, costing about $800,000 for the first year, he estimates. If successful, it might expand hours.
Ely, who's treated HIV patients for decades, said that even though treatment has improved, they do have some specialized needs – extra testing, to determine viral load, at minimum. Some people who have had HIV long-term may have problems associated with aging earlier than the rest of the population, or long-term medical conditions that were side effects from some of the earlier HIV drugs.
Overall, "the care of an individual with HIV in 2018 is really much less complicated than it was 10 years ago, and definitely better than it was 20 years ago,"Ely said.
But that also depends, in many cases, how well they adhere to a medication and treatment regimen.That's why "there's a real need for this, for sure,"Ely said.
"A lot of people just aren't in care, for whatever reason."
Jenkins said the nonprofit will work with the Hope Project, Knox County Health Department's Center for Excellence and other local organizations. Its goal: quality and "personalized" care, "eliminating the physical and financial barriers that stand in the way of achieving your best health following an HIV diagnosis."