KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Recently the state of Tennessee said it was backing out of nearly 9 million dollars in federal funding for HIV prevention programs beginning May 31. The money is a lifeline for local HIV programs that help people in our community. One Knoxville nonprofit is not just meeting, but exceeding its ability to serve.

“Well, Positively Living started in 1996, creating housing opportunities for people living with HIV. The world changed and HIV treatment changed and about five years ago, we started Choice Health Network, which is our medical clinic to provide medical care to people living with HIV.”

Positively Living Chief Operating Officer Kim Lauth said the agency fights daily to combat the stigma of those living with the virus. Their efforts are paying off, as they were recently designated as an HIV/AIDS Center of Excellence.

“HIV remains incredibly stigmatized and so giving people a choice about where they receive care is very important. And having a company like ours that offers judgment-free care is even more important. We practice what we call trauma-informed care,” said Lauth.

They are only the second center to receive the honor from the Tennessee Department of Health in Knoxville. Their services reach beyond medical care.

“You know, one of the biggest challenges for people living with HIV is the things that they might have going on in their life outside of their diagnosis. So for example, if they’re experiencing food insecurity, or homelessness, or transportation issues, mental health needs or substance use, all of those things can help can prevent them from getting the care they need,” she said.

Their services prove vital as more in the community are relying on HIV care and prevention.

“Look, the need continues to grow. We continue to see a new diagnosis, particularly coming out of people of the community of folks who inject drugs. That’s where we’re seeing a lot of new diagnoses now,” Lauth said. 

They say the care they give is working.

“And you know, the results speak for themselves. 90% of the people in our care are virally suppressed and what that means is the virus is undetectable in their bloodstream. And why this is important is because of course that’s the best health outcome for them. But undetectable also means untransmittable and so it means if they’re undetectable, they can’t transmit the virus through sex. And so that helps keep our whole community healthier,” said Lauth.

That’s the mission.

Positively Living and Choice Health Network also serves Chattanooga, Memphis and Upper Cumberland in Cookeville.

The agency said, 

“Positively Living & Choice Health Network operates as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization serving East Tennessee’s most vulnerable populations: nearly 6,000 individuals and families struggling to survive the challenges created by HIV, homelessness, mental illness and substance use. We have nearly 50 staff in four cities across the state, and a budget of approximately $8 million.

Our programmatic pillars include:

A Medical Clinic that provides disease testing, treatment, and prevention along with a full service pharmacy;

Client Services which includes therapy and mental health, food, housing, and transportation support;

Our Harm Reduction program which offers a syringe services exchange, naloxone distribution, fentanyl test strips, and resources for our neighbors who use substances.”