An Innovative Approach to Providing Treatment for Hepatitis C in High-Risk Rural Populations
Special Projects Fund
Recent estimates show that more than 280,000 New Yorkers are currently infected with Hepatitis C virus (HCV), with more than 50% unaware of their status. If left untreated, HCV can lead to chronic liver disease, cirrhosis, liver cancer, and, eventually, liver transplantation—all of which result in more than $30 billion in health care costs annually. HCV is preventable and curable, yet it is estimated that less than 10% of patients with HCV have received treatment. Patients with HCV in isolated rural communities especially face barriers to accessing care. As the largest federally qualified health center in New York State, Hudson Headwaters Health Network (HHHN) is the sole provider of comprehensive primary care in the rural North Country and Adirondack regions. In 2018, NYSHealth awarded HHHN a grant to increase testing and improve care for patients with HCV in the upper rural regions of New York State.
Under this grant, HHHN will help train providers to identify, evaluate, and treat patients with HCV. HHHN will partner with local community outreach programs and county public health departments to increase the number of high-risk patients who are tested and treated. It will expand this testing in underserved locations in the community, including food pantries, college campuses, substance use recovery centers, senior centers, jails, and halfway houses. HHHN will partner with the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai to train its rural providers on Mount Sinai’s online toolkit to build primary care providers’ capacity to treat HCV. HHHN will also train primary care providers across wide geographically rural areas on how to provide care using teleconferencing technology. Monthly conference calls will be held for the providers, and an open forum will be created where they can discuss clinical issues and receive updates on HCV treatment and support. Through this integrated strategy of outreach, screening, and provider training, HHHN aims to get as many patients as possible, especially high-risk individuals, the treatment they need.