As executive director of PA Thrive Partnership since December 2022, Darrin Kinander’s goal is to continue improve the quality and availability of HIV care and treatment for low-income people with HIV.
PA Thrive Partnership was founded in 1991 as the Northwest Pennsylvania Rural AIDS Alliance. It provides services to 13 counties throughout the northwest part of the state and is contracted to serve 12 north-central counties. In 2022, the alliance rebranded as PA Thrive Partnership. The organization’s goal is to work with and for the communities it serves, partnering in the treatment of HIV and AIDS to improve, protect and promote the health of individuals.
Services include free and confidential HIV and Hepatitis C testing at their walk-in clinics in Clarion, Jefferson, Venango, Warren, Crawford, Lawrence and Erie counties, or at mobile clinics; medical case management; hardship and housing assistance; mental health services; pharmacy; and high-impact prevention. Transportation assistance is available for the clinics and for medical case management.
Kinander, a 2001 graduate of PennWest Edinboro, developed a relationship with PA Thrive through his former work with the Housing Authority of the City of Erie, where he was liaison for people receiving funding through Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS. The Erie PA Thrive office linked people who were receiving services to Kinander, who was their HUD resource. He’s known some of the PA Thrive team for more than 15 years.
“I have always respected PA Thrive,” Kinander said. “I know people who have (used PA Thrive services). I was impressed with the care they received.”
His experience with budgets and grant writing are additional skills that have transferred to his position as executive director of PA Thrive.
In alignment with improving quality and availability of services, PA Thrive is expanding its services to include testing for sexually transmitted infections and prescribing pre-exposure prophylaxis – or PrEP – to people outside of its clientele. PA Thrive currently provides PrEP to partners of clients to reduce their chances of being infected with HIV.
Testing for STIs is an important part of another goal, to reach more people infected with HIV.
“We’re not serving the population we could,” Kinander said.“We’re only serving about two-thirds of the people actually infected with HIV.”
People are now living for 30 years or more with HIV, according to Kinander. Medications can prevent the replication of the virus, thus reducing the viral load of people with AIDS.
“Some people we would consider as being at an AIDS status, but once we get them on antiretroviral therapy, we can get the viral load down and get them showing as non-transmittable,” he said. “We are at 90 percent of patients who are non-transmittable.”
PA Thrive currently serves 311 patients, with 275 of them enrolled in case management services.
Kinander said the organization operates in concert with the Ryan White Program’s mission of providing wholistic care to people with HIV.
An initiative that’s taking shape is launching a nutrition program to combat the comorbidities of malnutrition, diabetes, circulatory issues, kidney disease and high cholesterol caused by treatments. Body wasting is a major issue for HIV-infected individuals.
“In late May, we started having lunches at the clinics,” he said. “We mainly treat the low-income population; we’re really driving home that we need to get folks fed in addition to keeping up with their medicine.”
Franco’s Café, near PA Thrive’s Erie office, has been providing bag lunches, and they’re hoping to be able to begin providing hot meals. PA Thrive is also starting a food bank to help people who need additional groceries.
“We’re trying to relaunch group therapies, which stopped during the COVID pandemic,” Kinander said. “We want to branch this out to do cooking instruction online with a dietician, and we’re working with Hello Fresh to get meals delivered to the homes of our patients.”
Kinander said people with $0 income to professionals in our region can access care, because PA Thrive has been able to lift the barrier of income. PA Thrive bills clients’ insurance providers, whether it’s Medicaid or private insurance. When the organization begins STI testing and PrEP prescription, those services will be billed; the commonwealth is looking into assistance so those services can be provided at no cost to uninsured people.
PA Thrive Partnership adheres to the confidentiality guidelines of HIPAA. For services, call 814-297-8220 in Clarion County or 814-454-3811 in Erie County, or visit the website at https://pa-thrive.com.