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HIV clinic opens at epicenter of Indiana health crisis

Some much-needed help arrived Tuesday at the epicenter of an HIV outbreak in southern Indiana.

Some much-needed help arrived Tuesday at the epicenter of an HIV outbreak in southern Indiana.

A health center, operated by Dr. William Cooke, in Austin, Indiana – a town located 30 miles north of Louisville, Kentucky – opened a new HIV wing Tuesday to address the growing public health crisis. 

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“It was a very positive start,” Cooke said by email. “It was at times emotional due to all the hard work and sleepless nights to make this a reality. Even some tears were shed seeing the response we were getting.” Indiana health officials reported Friday there were 74 confirmed cases of HIV and seven preliminary positive cases in the state – all directly linked to intravenous drug use. A short-term needle exchange program was authorized last week by Gov. Mike Pence, but it has not yet been set up. Local officials are hoping to implement the needle exchange program this week. “I am continuing to lay the groundwork's for the behavioral health and addiction center with hopefully a needle exchange program. This will be located right in the heart of Austin,” Cooke said. Participating in Tuesday's opening were the Indiana State Department of Health, Vital Records Department, the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, Family and Social Services Administration and the Center for Disease Control, among others. 

A goal of the new wing at the health center is to serve patients who may not be able to afford regular treatment. The HIV clinic will be open every Tuesday, and an infectious disease doctor from Indiana University School of Medicine, Dr. Janet Arno, will commute to the center to treat patients. 

“At one point Dr. Janet Arno and I walked around several neighborhoods connecting directly with some people on the streets,” Cooke wrote. “I feel that it's important for me to continue going out to connect with people and build that relationship. I plan to do so again each week.”The effort to help the rural community will need funding.

“If anyone would like to donate to this cause, they can contact Jene Bridgewater with the The Scott County partnership at 812-752-7365 and ask for the money to be earmarked to Dr. Cooke in Austin. All of that money will go directly to the opening of a behavior health and addiction clinic with needle exchange right in the heart of Austin.”