Atlanta HIV health center redesigns services due to coronavirus

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Positive Impact Health Centers has initiated prescriptions by delivery and curbside pick-up only, modified its hours and introduced telehealth to help fight the coronavirus pandemic.

The HIV service organization rolled out the series of changes this month as the pandemic spread.

“What we were looking at was how to redesign service delivery with a minimized impact to clients and staff, with the goal of keeping both sides very healthy,” President & CEO Larry Lehman (photo) told Project Q Atlanta.

Lehman wanted to reduce foot traffic at PIHC’s locations in Decatur, Duluth and Marietta by at least two-thirds.

“It’s absolutely critical that we keep the community safe, our providers safe and we continue to see clients,” Lehman said. “We don’t want to send these folks to the emergency room.”

Clients are now prescreened by phone to see if they’ve been out of the country recently, have a fever or have other indicators of coronavirus. PIHC also redesigned how clients enter and exit its facilities to reduce contact with others. And all clients have their temperature taken before entering, according to Lehman.

PIHC closed its pharmacies to the public on March 20. All medications are now delivered for free on the same day or next day by UPS or a courier. 

“We’re trying to keep pharmacy staff as quarantined as possible,” Lehman said. “Medications are absolutely critical, and we’ve figured out a way to do this without them having direct contact with the patients.”

PIHC introduced curbside pickup of medications outside its Decatur and Duluth locations on Tuesday for those unable to accept deliveries to their residence.

PIHC also opened telehealth options for its behavioral health and addiction services on March 23 to avoid face-to-face contact. Over 1,000 clients use those services, according to Olivia Chelko, PIHC’s development and communications vice president.

Clients can now use their smart phones, tablets or computers to access individual and group counseling sessions, according to Lehman. 

“They get a secure correspondence and click on the link and it takes them right there,” he said. “It’s an encrypted medical-based program you can use for those types of groups.”

PIHC also reduced hours to the public so the staff has more time for cleaning to reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission, according to Lehman. HIV testing, STI screening and PrEP enrollment is also now done by appointment only.

All of the moves help keep PIHC and its 3,000 clients with HIV from getting an additional infection, according to Lehman. 

“All of us, including our patients, everyone in the community should assume everyone else has [coronavirus],” he said. “Our clients are vulnerable because they already have an existing condition. Clearly we don’t want anyone to get infected.”

A coronavirus outbreak forced a popular gay Atlanta medical practice to temporarily close earlier this month. T. Douglas Gurley and several of his staff members are recovering from the infection. The office reopened on Monday.

Read our full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic here.



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