Sitting across from East Liberty Presbyterian Church on Penn Avenue, Allies for Health + Wellbeing might not look different than any ordinary medical clinic. In many ways, they are not. They accept most health insurances, perform exams, tests, all things related to medicine. But there is a deeper layer to Allies for Health, one that goes back to a troubled time in American history.
The 1980s saw the rise of a disease which would become one of the world’s greatest health crises. It became known as the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV. Spread primarily through exposure to infected blood and other bodily fluids, the CDC estimated in 2016 that as many as 675,000 Americans have died from HIV since the beginning of the epidemic over 30 years ago.
The disease was particularly brutal because it disproportionately affected some of the most marginalized communities among us. Seeing this, LGBT activist Kerry Stoner and a group of volunteers formed the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force, or PATF. They worked to provide legal advocacy to protect patients from discrimination, as well as secure money they were entitled to. They also developed a system called the Buddy Program, which paired patients with people to provide support of all kinds.
As PATF evolved over the years, they added a number of new supplemental services, some of which are open to HIV-negative patients. To reflect this change, PATF rebranded as Allies for Health + Wellbeing in 2017.
Today, Allies for Health + Wellbeing is the oldest and largest AIDS service organization in Southwestern PA. According to Brogan McGowan, Allies’ marketing and communications manager, they continue to provide some of the most comprehensive care for HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
“Allies is proud to provide rapid and free HIV and Hepatitis C testing services to folks. The Allies Medical Clinic allows for immediate consultation and treatment the same day for those experiencing symptoms or [who] receive a positive result,” McGowan said.
Testing and education are also taken outside of the clinic to the communities who need them.
“Allies works to bring community education and free testing out into the community. Allies is equipped to provide free HIV, STI, and viral hepatitis testing at most community events, spaces and health fairs,” McGowan said.
Allies for Health also provides PrEP and PEP, two breakthrough medications for preventing HIV. It also helps to connect patients with programs to assist with the payment of any co-pays.
For those who are HIV-positive, Allies provides a number of different services to help them manage the challenges of the disease, especially lower-income patients. This includes case management, access to pharmacy and legal services, even emergency housing and financial assistance. Allies also continues to operate the Buddy Program.
As they are a nonprofit, Allies for Health receive funding from the community. While donations are accepted year round, their largest fundraising effort is their annual Allies Ball.
“The Allies Ball is a premier gala inviting stakeholders of all perspectives, backgrounds and experiences to come together as Allies for Health + Wellbeing to improve the services available for folks that experience discrimination in their access to healthcare services,” McGowan said.
Last year, the Allies Ball raised $127,000 to benefit those living with HIV/AIDS. The goal for next year’s Ball, scheduled for March 30, 2019, is even higher. And for all those who depend so much on them, that is something to be thankful for this holiday season.