By Amy Geiszler-Jones - Photography by Aaron Patton
Two years ago, the efforts of Positive Directions Inc., an HIV education and prevention service organization, were running a bit peaked.
Grant money was running out, its space was too big and costly and its mission needed refocusing.
The opportunity to come back to an organization he’d grown to believe in at such a critical time in the group’s existence was one Brett Hogan couldn’t pass up.
Hogan, who had served nine months as the prevention coordinator in 2015, rejoined Positive Directions as its executive director nearly three years ago after a short stint in between at another nonprofit.
It’s been the perfect place for Hogan to put the education, social services and health care skills he’s gleaned from previous jobs – as a fourth-grade teacher, a case worker for those with mental health issues and those with disabilities and a physical therapy technician for his mother’s practice – and the understanding of the virus from a close friendship with a family involved in providing treatment for HIV and AIDS patients.
“It just felt right because my heart never really left this place,” said Hogan, sitting at a conference table just outside the small room where he can run a 20-minute test to provide preliminary results for those who come in for free testing. “I’ve had friends pass from it and friends who are affected. It’s been in my life so it makes sense to fight on.”
Under Hogan’s leadership and with the guidance of the nonprofit’s 10-member board, Positive Directions fine-tuned its mission to focus on prevention and testing of HIV and AIDS, moved a short distance from 414 S. Commerce to 416 S. Commerce into a space the third of its old space, and increased its grant funding.
Founded in 1992, over the years Positive Directions, or PDI, had offered testing, case management services and even food pantry and housing assistance. Prevention efforts had ebbed and flowed.
“We had been more focused on people with positive results,” Hogan said.
While the staff remains compassionate and caring for anyone who gets a preliminary positive reading – referring them to the Sedgwick County Health Department and further testing for confirmation, the organization’s focus now is on the front lines of the virus: prevention and testing.
Every month, Positive Directions distributes more than 3,000 packages of free condoms sealed in artistic packages. The packaging of the accompanying lubricant informs users about Positive Directions and its free HIV testing. The packages are stocked in dispensaries in nearly 20 locations in Wichita, from tattoo parlors to gay clubs to coffee shops and breweries. The condoms, along with dental dams, are also available at its office.
The group also makes an effort to be represented at community events, like the July LevelUp event, to let people know about this important resource. It also provides educational seminars. Its outreach services help connect people with resources they need to be informed about sexual health, to reduce risky behaviors and adopt consistent, safer sex practices, according to PDI’s website. It also beefed up its social media presence under the restructuring.
Positive Directions provides free, walk-in testing for anyone ages 16 and older – the age of consent in Kansas. PDI is the only non-medical office in Wichita that offers testing five days a week.
“People come in who are regulars, some are worried about an exposure and some are women who’ve found out their husband has cheated on them,” said Hogan. “Some are brave but you can see how nervous they are and some are breaking down in tears.”
One recent patient was a 19-year-old woman who had been raped but didn’t report the event; getting the test was her first step in dealing with the trauma.
The strip test that Positive Directions uses detects for the presence of antigens and antibodies that the body develops as first responders to the virus. The test is sensitive enough to pick up on results within 10 days of an exposure event. While patients wait for the test results, PDI staff visit with them, providing resource and educational information.
Patients who have a positive test will need to undergo a blood test to detect the actual virus, Hogan said. PDI reports positive results, as required, to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and to the Sedgwick County Health Department that works with the patients for further testing and to get medical treatment. Treatments – which have advanced significantly over the years – vary depending on the stage of the virus, Hogan explained.
PDI can also test for syphilis and hepatitis C.
PDI’s prevention and education efforts are funded primarily by grants that originate with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Ryan White Foundation and are doled out by the KDHE. During the year, it holds two major, local fundraisers: its upcoming Sept. 29 AIDS Walk at The Workroom and a January gala.
PDI runs with a very small paid staff, with Hogan, a second full-time employee and a part-time intern. Its hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays; 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesdays, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays.
For more information about Positive Directions or to participate in the Sept. 29 AIDS Walk, visit positivedirectionsks.org.