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ACR Health trying to expand nutritional education program

Ellen Abbott
ACR Health Executive Director Michael Crinnin paints a red line down S. Salina Street as part of the outreach effort.

ACR Health in Syracuse is hoping a successful nutrition program can be expanded to serve others in the community, but right now its nutritional education program currently only has funding to serve clients with HIV/AIDS.

Brian Cowden, 50, has been living with HIV since he was 19. On medication to control the disease, Cowden says he never felt good, complaining of gastrointestinal problems, migraines, sleep issues. But after joining ACR Health’s nutritional program, that all went away.

"When you get rid of crappy food, then all of a sudden the good food can come in and supply your body with the nutrients it needs to grow and to live," Cowden said. "And that’s exactly what I’ve done.”

Cowden says learning what kinds of foods are nutritious and how to prepare them has made a big difference in his life.

Credit Ellen Abbott / WRVO
Cowden speaks to the media about ACR Health's annual “Paint the Town RED” community awareness campaign in Clinton Square in Syracuse.

“I have changed my lifestyle to become a pescatarian, where I eat fish, but I don’t eat meat," Cowden explained. "But with all the tiny changes I’ve made, I don’t have all the crazy side effects that come along with this disease.”

His success story is limited to people with an HIV diagnosis, because the program through ACR Health is federally funded through the Ryan White Foundation, which only pays for services for people with HIV and AIDS. Support Services Program coordinator Jennifer Cook says more people who walk into their doors could benefit from it.

"I would say between 100 and 150 possible more," Cook said. "It would depend on how much funding we would receive obviously, but anyone who comes through our doors with our home health program really could benefit as well.”

Syracuse-area Rep. Dan Maffei (D) thinks he may be able to help. He says it could be as simple as expanding the perimeters of who is entitled to these federal funds through the Ryan White Foundation.

"Not diverting funding away from any particular HIV/AIDS, but making sure it makes sense," Maffei said. "If you do a program that can help people, you don’t have to cut off the program simply because someone doesn’t have HIV at the moment, particularly if they're at-risk groups.”

Maffei says it makes sense for him to suggest that the eligibility be expanded for these federal funds, as long as AIDS stays front and center.

“If you look at the programs like Ryan White funding that goes to people with HIV and AIDS, you want to make sure that’s the primary purpose," Maffei explained. "But if groups like ACR come up with these programs and help many other people under the same program, I don’t think anyone would want to artificially limit them to that. So that’s where I’m going to be looking at.”

ACR Health is also offering a behavioral health education program starting this summer for people with mental health or addiction issues, and says this nutrition program would work well with that population.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.