PROVIDENCE — The Miriam Hospital will use a recent $2.5 million federal grant to partner with Project Weber/RENEW and the Rhode Island Public Health Institute in establishing Rhode Island’s first program providing substance use treatment services to gay and bisexual men who are black and Latino.
About $1 million of the grant will be used by Project Weber/RENEW, a peer-based program providing harm reduction and recovery services to sex workers and high-risk men and women, including transgender people. The program has worked with clients at the intersection of substance use disorder and HIV risk for many years. The grant will enable Project Weber/RENEW to provide clinical services as well as expand its peer-based outreach and drop-in services.
The populations are at high risk for contracting, HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The new program will be directed toward reducing barriers to substance use treatment, which disproportionately impact black and Latino men. Such barriers include both ignorance of available services, and the lack of cultural competency of the people offering those services, said Colleen Daley Ndoye, executive director of Project Weber/RENEW.
For instance, Daley Ndoye said, Project Weber/RENEW staff have shared the same types of experiences as many of the people in the populations they’re trying to reach, many of whom are in recovery, homeless, and are former sex workers. She said their staff know how to reach these people and communicate the services available to them from the point of view of people who have been in similar situations. That will increase their chances of successfully signing up people in substance recovery programs, giving them access to medication-assisted treatment and providing stable housing. About 80 percent of the people they’re trying to reach are homeless, she said, which is a significant barrier to making the treatment effective and lasting.
The balance of the grant will be used by The Miriam Hospital and the Rhode Island Public Health Institute.
“This grant offers a great opportunity to expand our substance treatment services among gay and bisexual men, especially given the concerning opioid epidemic we are facing,” said Dr. Philip A. Chan, medical director of The Miriam Hospital’s STD Clinic.
Megan Pinkston-Camp, a psychologist with Lifespan Physician Group, Division of Psychiatry, and director of the Ryan White Behavioral Medicine program, said, “We are committed to addressing the overlapping substance use and mental health concerns by reaching out to and providing treatment in this underserved population. This new grant represents another facet of Rhode Island’s innovative approach to dealing with addiction and recovery, and builds on Project Weber/RENEW’s years of work advocating for the population of high-risk people.”
The Rhode Island Public Health Institute will evaluate and monitor the success of the new initiative and assist with outreach and programs. The institute is led by Amy Nunn, who has many years of experience working collaboratively with community leaders to address health disparities.
“This opportunity draws on our core competencies in reducing health disparities. We will partner with Project Weber/Renew and the Miriam Hospital to address Rhode Island’s substance use crisis,” Nunn said.
The five-year grant was awarded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Rob Borkowski is a PBN staff writer. Email him at Borkowski@PBN.com.