ACR Health

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The number of heroin and opioid overdoses continues to rise in central New York. According to the latest figures from the Onondaga County Medical Examiner’s Office, there have been 30 overdose deaths to date in 2016, compared with 52 all of last year.  The opioid epidemic is also starting to affect some of the agencies that deal with people addicted to heroin.

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W-18, a new synthetic opioid, may be on the scene in central and northern New York. ACR Health prevention director Erin Bortel said several overdose deaths in the North Country have raised suspicions.

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ACR Health in Syracuse has opened a new clinic to provide health care for injection drug users. The agency hopes the facility can reach people who may feel alienated by the health care system.

Thirty-two-year old Jeremy Fiorino of Syracuse was the first patient at the clinic, which opened up this week. A heroin addict since 2012, he’s been clean now for 54 days.

"I had an abscess from when I was actively using, and I got some antibiotics, and they checked up on it,” said Fiorino.

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ACR Health in Syracuse is lobbying hard for proposed state legislation that would allow children under the age of 18 to get access to HIV prevention medication without parental consent.  

Marissa Rice runs the youth services program at ACR Health. She says there’s a certain population in central New York that could really benefit from access to PrEP, a drug which prevents transmission of HIV -- lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teens between the ages of 15 add 18, who have been forced into sex trafficking.

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As New York state moves towards eradicating AIDS, there's one demographic where the disease continues to grow: the community of color. Syracuse isn’t immune to this trend, so advocates are trying new strategies to reach this population.

ACR Health AIDS educator Lanika Mabrey of Syracuse said her story is pretty typical. She didn’t realize her mother had AIDS until after she died six years ago. 

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New York state will add another $200 million toward the effort to end the AIDS epidemic.

These new funds are on top of $2.5 billion the state has already committed to the fight against AIDS by Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration. And that has made a difference according to Micheal Crinnen, head of ACR Health in Syracuse. He said beyond the billboards and publicity, it’s huge having the health department pushing universal testing for HIV so doctors offer it routinely.

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Transgender service providers say doctors are not being trained to deal with LGBT issues. Medical professionals attended a conference held by ACR Health and the Q Center in Syracuse on Wednesday to learn more about the struggles transgender people face in accessing quality health care.

Eight months ago, 24 year-old Ethan Johnson of Syracuse came out as a transman. That’s someone who was born female, but who identifies as a man.

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A low-cost, low-co-pay health insurance plan is now available for low income earners in New York state. The Essential Plan offers ten health benefits for less than $20 a month for anyone making less than $24,000. Steve Wood of ACR Health said the plan is very affordable.

"No deductible. Very low co-pays," Wood said. "I think the highest co-pay is about $150 for a hospital stay. Prescriptions: very, very low cost. Everything else is very inexpensive."

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The number of syphilis cases has increased dramatically in recent years in central New York.  

It used to be that when there was an outbreak of syphilis in New York state, the state Department of Health would find people infected in a particular school or neighborhood.

"But now the social networks are different. People meet though the Internet. If they’re looking for sexual partners, and if they throw that net wide enough, they’re going to find them,” said Dan Casler, the head of the state health department’s communicable disease program.

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Finding out who tests positive for the H-I-V virus and getting them treated are cornerstones of a central New York strategy to meet the state’s goal of ending AIDS by 2020.  

HIV testing by ACR Health is already up 20 percent since December, after a new push to get more people tested according to Jeanette O’Connor-Shanley, the agency's director of support services. And when individuals test positive, they move on to the next part of their strategy to cut back on the number of new aids patients. 

ACR Health in Syracuse put on a special workshop for educators recently to explore ways schools can become more supportive of transgender students. The session also offered a firsthand look at the challenges these kids face.

Schools are often ground zero for transgender kids, says Terri Cook, co-author of the book “Allies and Angels” and parent of a transgender child.

“School can be a safe space for a student, or it can be a living hell,” said Cook.

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The Affordable Care Act’s open enrollment period begins Saturday. One Syracuse agency is getting ready to help people who want to sign up or make a change in their health insurance policies.

In the first year of the Affordable Care Act, ACR Health in Syracuse signed up 8,000 central New Yorkers through the New York State of Health website, and about 6,000 of those people completed their health insurance enrollment. Now it’s time for the agency to get back to work during the next open enrollment period.

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ACR Health has expanded its needle exchange program in Utica.  

In the Syracuse area, the organization’s three-year-old needle exchange program has reached almost 1,000 injection drug users. ACR health prevention director Erin Bortel says one of the reason it’s so successful is that it goes to where the injection users are.

"We’re able to infiltrate the community in a little bit more practical way, than expecting people who continually experience stigma and discrimination from having to come to us. So our mobility is our huge asset in our ability to reach individuals.”

ACR Health Prevention Services in Syracuse is looking for ways to reduce HIV and hepatitis C infection rates in New York state prisons.

According to federal statistics, inmates have the highest rate of HIV in New York, compared to any other state, and many of those inmates are  co-infected with hepatitis C. To fight that, the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS has a campaign that emphasizes public awareness, education and access to testing and treatment.  

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently announced a plan he hopes will end the AIDS epidemic in New York state by the year 2020, but much of what’s involved in the three-point program is already being done.

The governor's program is called “Bending the Curve," and concentrates on three things: identifying people who test HIV positive; linking those people to healthcare and connecting them to anti-HIV therapy to prevent further transmission; and stopping high-risk behavior among others to keep them HIV negative.

ACR Health in Syracuse is getting a lot of calls from people who signed up for healthcare through the Affordable Care Act marketplace, and are worried their health insurance costs are rising. But the experts who signed hundreds of people up for insurance in central New York say not to worry.

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ACR Health in Syracuse is hoping a successful nutrition program can be expanded to serve others in the community, but right now its nutritional education program currently only has funding to serve clients with HIV/AIDS.

Brian Cowden, 50, has been living with HIV since he was 19. On medication to control the disease, Cowden says he never felt good, complaining of gastrointestinal problems, migraines, sleep issues. But after joining ACR Health’s nutritional program, that all went away.

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A spate of heroin overdoses last week in Syracuse has created a more urgent tone for one community organization’s program meant to fight overdoses. The Opioid Overdose Prevention Program run by ACR Health in Syracuse hopes to prevent stories like this in the future.

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Along with a spike in heroin and other opiate use in central and northern New York has come a jump in the number of  drug overdose deaths. One Syracuse health organization hopes to bring that number down by teaching people how to administer a drug that can stop the effects of an overdose.

There's only a week left in the enrollment period for people to sign up to get health care through the Affordable Care Act. But there’s been a steady flow of central New Yorkers signing up for insurance policies through the New York exchanges in advance of that deadline.

ACR Health in Syracuse has been helping people in a nine-county area sign on to plans. Community Health Director Steve Wood says things have been going well so far, with 3,500 people covered by health insurance who weren’t before.

There are less than two months left for people to sign on to a health insurance plan and avoid tax penalties for not having insurance in 2014.  

Steve Wood, community health coordinator of the ACR Health Syracuse office, said they are continuing outreach in nine counties in central New York, encouraging people to get help from specially trained navigators who can help with the process.

As the deadline for health insurance plan applications approaches, one agency that’s offering individuals help with the process is finding itself very busy. ACR Health in Syracuse has exceeded expectations as far as signing people up in the state healthcare exchanges.

According to navigator Brian Vanbenschoten, ACR has already helped more than 1,100 people sign up for health insurance plans that will go into effect Jan. 1. That’s 300 more than the agency anticipated at this time.