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STAFF PHOTO/ROBERT BAKER Members of the local Xceed team outside their suite of offices in the Warner Complex, from left, include Matt Semanison, mental health therapist; Sophie Galdieri, testing specialist; Gena Galdieri, community outreach; Ken Zula, executive director; and Braden Beamer, case management director.

The Wyoming Valley AIDS Council’s services will soon become more accessible for Wyoming County residents.

The council, also known as Xceed America, has plans to open an office in Tunkhannock this June.

In 1985 during the AIDS crisis, the WVAC began as a support group for affected people in Wyoming, Susquehanna, Lackawanna, Luzerne, Wayne and Pike Counties.

It has since grown into a state-funded agency with offices in Wilkes-Barre and Hazleton.

“We’re here to support people with HIV/AIDS and STIs so they can live a healthy, productive life,” said Executive Director Ken Zula. “Not only is our goal to assess those who are diagnosed, but to prevent.”

Xceed America has already been serving Wyoming County residents remotely through its Wilkes-Barre office for some time.

The positivity rate of individuals in the county, as well as the number of people served, has also increased.

“For us, it was just logical that we began to look at expanding into that county,” Zula said.

There’s a “major need” for this in Wyoming County amid the opioid epidemic, according to Zula, who said the organization strives to prevent another outbreak like the one experienced in Scott County, Indiana.

From 2011 to 2015, Scott County experienced a major spike in HIV cases among people who inject drugs, totalling 215 infections during that time period.

Similar to Wyoming County, Zula said, Scott County is rural.

Around Jan. 10, 2015, the number of undiagnosed HIV cases related to this outbreak peaked at 126.

More than 400 individuals living with HIV in Xceed America’s six-county coverage area currently or used to inject drugs, Zula said.

At the Tunkhannock office, people will be able to receive testing for HIV, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis.

If the results come back positive, treatment will also be available. A physician will be working at the office to provide testing and treatment.

The office also will offer medical case management and therapists specializing in mental health and substance abuse.

“We’re fully funded through the Department of Health, so all of our services are completely free,” Zula said. “There’s no charge at all.”

Offering these services in Wyoming County will make sure that those who are uninsured or underinsured can receive the medical care they need, Zula said, noting that the council also has a huge focus on prevention education.

Xceed America also gives out condoms, as well as needle cleaning kits for prevention efforts in addition to offering pre-exposure prophylaxis for high-risk individuals.

“We can catch and prevent the spread of any illness, as well provide the education necessary for people to understand risk behaviors,” he said.

It’s important to be proactive in getting tested because the earlier an infection or disease is caught, the easier it is to treat.

With STIs, for example, Zula said an individual with syphilis can die from encephalitis if the infection isn’t detected early.

“With HIV, we can assist people with getting on medications and making sure they are medication compliant,” he added.

With the advancement of medical science, an HIV-positive individual’s viral load can become undetectable, making them unable to spread the virus through sexual activity.

In other words, undetectable = untransmittable.

Zula said the easy spread of HIV used to contribute to a widespread fear among people, but this shouldn’t be the case anymore, as medicine has changed so drastically.

The Tunkhannock office, located at 1 Kim Ave., Suite 2 in the Warner Complex, will operate Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Extended evening hours will be available on Thursdays, but are to be determined.

Walk-ins are welcome at Xceed America offices, but appointments are encouraged and can be made online or over the phone.

A soft opening for the Tunkhannock office is targeted for June 12, with a grand opening targeted after the Fourth of July.

However, people can call in advance for June appointments in Tunkhannock starting this week.

For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 570-996-6555 or visit wvacinc.org.