Vivent Health’s HIV treatment efforts will get a major boost next year with the opening of an expanded clinic in Milwaukee.
The nonprofit organization, which has branches in several states, including 10 offices in Wisconsin, is moving its main clinic, currently located at 648 N. Plankinton Ave., to 1311 N. 6th St. in downtown Milwaukee.
Scheduled to open in April 2023, the new property will increase the size of the clinic by 33 percent and raise capacity by 1,000 patients, said Michael J. Gifford, Vivent Health president and chief executive officer.
The added resources will help the organization increase treatment services as it continues to incorporate new strategies such as using social media platforms to start conversations about prevention and learn what’s important to people. Those strategies include the promotion of condom use, testing for sexually transmitted infections and advocating for the use of clean needles.
“The prevention methods that may have worked before in the past, they may not always be as appealing,” said Imani Sloan, PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) supervisor for Wisconsin at Vivent Health.
“We have to ensure that we come from a place of respect for their lifestyle and for their whole being,” said Sloan, who supervises a team of outreach workers for Vivent Health.
Filling a growing need
The new clinic will continue to provide HIV case management; health and dental care; pharmacy services; a food pantry; and legal and housing assistance.
“The need for HIV services is at an all-time high,” Gifford said. “This new facility will launch us forward to meet that need and begin to end the HIV epidemic in Wisconsin through expanded and effective HIV prevention, care and treatment services.”
The cost of the project is $9 million, of which Vivent already has secured $7 million from funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA. Vivent is fundraising to cover remaining costs for the project.
Most new patients at the clinic will come from the five ZIP codes with the highest prevalence of people living with or at risk of contracting HIV in the state: 53204, 53214, 53215, 53216 and 53218. The ZIP codes 53216 and 53218 are located on the city’s North Side, while 53204 and 53215 are on the South Side. The 53214 neighborhoods include sections of Milwaukee, West Allis and West Milwaukee.
Not coincidentally, said Bill Keeton, chief advocacy officer at Vivent, residents from those areas are among the most medically underserved in the city.
“That could mean they don’t have access to medical care, secure safe and affordable housing, behavioral health and substance abuse services,” explained Keeton. “What we know about HIV is that it disproportionately impacts people who are living in lower SES (socioeconomic status) and communities of color.”
Factors that increase the odds of HIV infection or transmission include not having a safe place to sleep at night or not having food, which could lead to risky behaviors, he said. In addition, individuals who engage in sex work or use injection drugs or share needles also face a higher risk of HIV infection.
According to data from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, there were 2,835 Milwaukee residents living with HIV at the end of 2020, with an estimated 454 additional people possibly living with HIV in the city who are not aware of their diagnosis. In Milwaukee, young men (ages 13-29) have the highest HIV diagnosis rate.
Male-to-male sexual contact is the most common HIV transmission risk while male-female sexual contact is the second most common. Black males in Milwaukee were diagnosed with HIV at significantly higher rates (10.3 per 100,000 people) than other races from 2016 to 2020 (Whites 2.5 and Hispanics 2.7).
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