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For more than a decade, local residents who suffer from a blood disease that overwhelmingly affects people of African descent lacked direct access to the care and services that they needed.

But that's no longer the case.

The Buffalo and Western New York Chapter of the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America held a grand opening Friday for its new facility at 1048 Kensington Ave.

"We are very happy," said Aviva L. Merritt, executive director of the agency. "We are now on a main thoroughfare in the community, and people can just walk in for services."

For about 12 years, Merritt said the nonprofit agency had occupied a donated two-room office in Sisters Hospital.

She said patients and people seeking services from the agency had to make appointments to enter the building, and support groups and other meetings had to be held at other locations.

"If you have no access, you have no service," Merritt said.

She added that the agencylacked funding to move to another location.

The agency is one of two in New York that serves people with the sickle cell disease or who carry the trait.

In the United States, the disease of the blood, which can result in anemia, largely affects African-Americans.

Merritt said her agency serves about 1,500 people a year through its medical, educational and outreach programs.

The agency's office now occupies the bottom floor of the two-story house owned by Kensington Bailey Neighborhood Housing Services.

Ivy Diggs-Washington, executive director of the housing organization, said her group moved out of the house four years ago, when it bought a larger house across the street.

Diggs-Washington said the new location will give the agency increased visibility and improve its relationship with other community organizations.

With the roomier office and greater access for its patients, Merritt said the agency will be able to provide walk-up services.

It also will be able to offer more outreach and educational programs, she said.

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