New York Department of Health AIDS Institute Awards $1 Million Grant to SUNY Downstate HEAT Program to Provide Essential Health Services for Transgender Youth

Oct 8, 2019

MEDIA CONTACT: John Gillespie | | (718)270-2262

BROOKLYN, N.Y. (October 8, 2019) – The AIDS Institute of the New York State Department of Health has awarded a 5-year, $1 million grant to the Health Education Alternatives for Teens Program (HEAT) at SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University to provide essential health services for transgender and gender non-conforming youth (TGNC). The grant will provide $200,000 per year through November of 2024. This funding will nearly triple the HEAT program’s capacity from a caseload of 35 to more than 100 patients at any one time.

According to the most recent New York State HIV/AIDS Surveillance Report, the neighborhoods around SUNY Downstate have among the highest number of newly reported cases of HIV in New York City. Nearly 300 of these new cases are among transgender and gender non-conforming individuals.

The HEAT Program and SUNY Downstate began providing services to transgender and gender non-conforming (TGNC) young people nearly a decade ago when it became clear that the TGNC community had limited access to care.

“These huge gaps in access to essential health services puts the TGNC community at higher risk for acquiring HIV than any other demographic group,” said Jeffrey Birnbaum, M.D., MPH, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University and Executive Director of the HEAT Program. “There is no question that this grant will make a life or death difference for many in this community by expanding our ability to provide more services to more people.”

“For more than a generation, the HEAT Program has worked to eliminate health disparities for underserved and at-risk youth of our community,” said Wayne J. Riley, M.D., President of SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University. “The NYDOH AIDS Institute’s grant will help ensure that the program and its services will be able to better serve more of our youth in need.”

Essential health services for TGNC youth include a baseline assessment of identity that will determine which other services are most appropriate for the individual patient, says Dr. Birnbaum. The grant will support culturally competent basic health care services from providers specifically trained to address the health issues of TGNC youth. These services include HIV, AIDS and HCV (hepatitis C) screening and treatment, PrEP, hormone treatments as determined by guidelines developed by endocrinologists trained in treating TGNC youth, mental health services, social services, and peer-to-peer support.

The HEAT program was founded in 1992 to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic among young people in Brooklyn. From its founding as a multidisciplinary clinic, the program has expanded its mission and its services to include outreach, community engagement, and community-based HIV/STD testing for youth who were reluctant to seek basic sexual health screening in a formal medical setting. Since its inception, HEAT has cared for more than 500 HIV+ adolescents and young adults and currently provides HIV counseling and testing for approximately 1000 young people annually.

The HEAT program partners with more 25 community-based organizations to offer off-site HIV counseling, testing, and access to care for high-risk youth such as LGBT, those in the juvenile justice and foster care systems, and young women of color.

In addition to this grant from the NYDOH AIDS Institute, the HEAT program also receives more than $1M in annual and renewable funding from various state and federal programs supporting HIV, STD, and HCV prevention and treatment programs, and other healthcare services for at risk heterosexual, LGBTQ, transgender, and gender non-conforming youth.



About SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University

SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University is the borough’s only academic medical center for health education, research, and patient care, and is a 342-bed facility serving the healthcare needs of New York City, and Brooklyn’s 2.6 million residents. University Hospital of Brooklyn (UHB) is Downstate’s teaching hospital, backed by the expertise of an outstanding medical school and the research facilities of a world-class academic center. More than 800 physicians, representing 53 specialties and subspecialties—many of them ranked as tops in their fields—comprise Downstate's staff.

A regional center for cardiac care, neonatal and high-risk infant services, pediatric dialysis, and transplantation, Downstate also houses a major learning center for children with physical ailments or neurological disorders. In addition to UHB, Downstate comprises a College of Medicine, College of Nursing, School of Health Professions, a School of Graduate Studies, a School of Public Health, and a multifaceted biotechnology initiative, including the Downstate Biotechnology Incubator and BioBAT for early-stage and more mature companies, respectively. For more information, visit or follow us on Twitter at @sunydownstate.