Following public outcry, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (DPH) has reinstated funding for vital STD and HIV services offered by the Los Angeles LGBT Center.
The temporary agreement, announced on January 28, restores funding at least through the end of March. The Center, one of the largest providers of free STD testing in the county, is expected to have discussions with DPH about a long-term funding solution.
“We are hopeful, but nothing is guaranteed,” Center CEO Lorri L. Jean points out. “Clearly our community stands at the ready to re-engage should this become necessary.”
Without any funding, almost all free STD testing at the Center would have ceased—forcing tens of thousands of people to go untested, undiagnosed, and untreated—and would have eliminated thousands of free HIV tests funded by DPH.
Jean credits the LGBT community for the reprieve due to a flood of phone calls, tweets, and emails to DPH and its director Dr. Barbara Ferrer who made the cuts.
“It’s a potent reminder of the strength, tenacity, and resilience of our community,” Jean says. “Services were saved and are continuing—for now. That is crucial.”
The County’s Board of Supervisors, which has direct oversight over DHP and Dr. Ferrer, voted last year to maintain and even expand STD services to at-risk communities. Ferrer changed DHP’s funding approach and attempted to impose millions in County costs to community providers like the Center.
The end of almost all free testing for gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis at the Center would impact an estimated 15,000 people, according to Dr. Ward Carpenter, the Center’s co-director of Health Services.
“Access to testing and treatment is essential for combating the growing STD crisis,” Carpenter says. “The Center is one of the most trusted and cost-effective STD testing providers in the County, specifically because of our success ensuring that the LGBT community gets the care it needs and deserves.”
The threatened cuts come as the County is in the midst of STD epidemics. Over the last five years, there has been a 98% increase in primary and secondary syphilis; 81% increase in gonorrhea; and 25% increase in chlamydia cases, according to the California Department of Public Health, STD Control Branch.
The epidemic disproportionately impacts communities hardest hit by health inequities and stigma, including young gay and bisexual men, women, people of color, and transgender people.
Carpenter warns that a lack of free testing would have a “ripple effect” of the thousands of people going untested and untreated. This would cause STD cases to soar and cost millions of additional dollars in testing and treatment.
Despite the County funding debacle, money supporting core HIV care and treatment as well as PrEP and PEP services remains intact at the Center as does STD and HIV testing covered by insurance.
Regular testing is critical to ending the epidemic. Learn how to get tested at lalgbtcenter.org/gettested.