The leadership of LivWell — a Paducah-based nonprofit focused on health support services, education, advocacy and awareness programming for HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases — announced Wednesday that it had received a highly competitive five-year CDC grant bringing them $441,625 this year.
This grant is specifically earmarked to fund HIV testing events throughout the area, expanding testing services, offer more HIV prevention tools and develop its staff to support the growing portfolio of offerings from LivWell.
LivWell was one of only 96 organizations nationwide to receive the grant and the only one based in Kentucky.
Executive director Donna Reeder and her team learned of their award nearly two months ago, in June, and they could not have been happier.
“We were thrilled,” she said. “This was not an easy application, and when we found out we were the only agency in Kentucky to receive it we were pretty proud of that fact.”
The end goal of the grant is to decrease the number of people at high risk for HIV and increase the proportion of HIV-positive people who know they are infected and are linked to appropriate services and care.
In a typical year, LivWell performs hundreds of HIV tests across 43 counties in western Kentucky and southern Illinois.
This grant, Reeder hopes, can supercharge their efforts by allowing them to perform more tests for a variety of diseases. Before receiving this grant, LivWell only did free HIV and hepatitis C testing, but now they will be able to offer free STD testing, as well.
“It is really going to help us expand our prevention and outreach program and to increase testing not just for HIV but for other integrated testing — like hepatitis C and STDs,” she said. “We’ll be able to expand our events, grow our outreach and partner with area agencies and health departments.”
The development phase of the grant will run through 2022, when several west Kentucky counties will gain access to these new, expanded services. By year five, all of the counties LivWell services will be included. To learn more about these services, visit www.livwellchs.org.
LivWell will submit a new budget to the CDC each year and Reeder is hopeful that the amount received will grow with time. She believes that the amount will not reduce over time and will at least match this first year, meaning that LivWell expects to receive nearly $1.8 million in additional funds over the remaining four years of the grant for a total of over $2.2 million.
These funds will also enable the group to provide training for staff and hire additional staff; offer incentives to individuals to encourage testing and bring in friends for testing; provide free condoms; partner with more groups around the region; and refer high-risk negative individuals for PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), a drug taken to prevent HIV infection from sex or injected drug use.
“There are many doctors offices that don’t even do HIV testing unless someone asks for it specifically,” Reeder said. “We’re really the only agency in western Kentucky to provide these services. You can go to the health departments for testing, but it costs something. We go to rehab centers and jails.
“We go out into the community, where people are.”