Lakeshore Report

East Chicago Clinic Targets Region’s High STD Rates

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June 20, 2014 — It is one test where a ‘no’ on all queries is a positive result. A new clinic in Northwest Indiana is hoping to give more residents a chance to pass the test by focusing on education and prevention.

It is an ominous list: Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, and Trichomoniasis.

East Chicago, Ind. health officials like Esmeralda Herrera want to replace this catalogue of some of the region’s most contagious communicable diseases with a better checklist: prevention steps.

“They give you like, information on STDs and how to prevent it and, and your chance of getting it if you’re not using protection,” resident Latoi Edwards says. “More information so like you get a more in-depth of the information so you’re like, ok, I know what to look for, I know what not to do. I know where I can go get help if that ever happens.”

A recent ribbon cutting for a new clinic to test for sexually transmitted diseases at the East Chicago health department is an answer to calls.

After the clinic ended primary care services in 2012, residents called to ask for testing.

“Gary and East Chicago are the only two cities left in the state that have that actually have health departments,” says Gerri Browning, health officer for the City of East Chicago.

When Browning began his job last year, he noticed state grant money from a nutritional and exercise program was going unused, he says. “So, we converted them to this opportunity with the state to have an, a formal STD clinic. We’ve taken those grant dollars and hired a nurse.”

The state money will also fund a stock of antibiotics.

It’s a unique way to tackle an all-too-common concern in the region: STDs.

A May 2014 report from the Indiana State Department of Health shows Lake County, Ind. has the second highest rate of HIV-related deaths in the state.

“We have still uh, a large, uh, amounts of Chlamydia and Gonorrhea that go undiagnosed and untreated,” Browning says.

Nearly twenty seven hundred cases of Chlamydia were reported in Lake County in 2013 — one of the highest rates in the state, fueled by stigma and silence.

“I believe they know of it but they’re either too scared or too embarrassed to like, come into the facility and tested,” Edwards says. “Like, they know it’s there. They’re like, ‘oh if I walk in, then they think I have something or they’re going to label me as having something for going to get checked.’”

The new clinic wants patients to walk in and get checked out.

“We’re not here to judge, we’re here to help and prevent and to educate,” Hererra says. “We wanna bring in adolescents. We target 15 to 24 ages 15 to 24 where sexual activity is more prominent.”

Clinic officials say a tiny key chain can make a big dent in dismal disease rates in the region. Clinic workers hand them out and say condom key chains make safe sex practices portable, discreet and help combat largely preventable diseases.

“If you have a sexually transmitted disease that makes you more susceptible to HIV infection,” Browning says. “So, that’s still quite a problem in the African American and Hispanic community. And most of our patients are those ethnic backgrounds.”

State research shows, if you test people will come. African Americans have the largest share of HIV tests in the state, at 60 percent.

The clinic hopes to offer HIV testing in the coming months, but Browning says all STD screenings can save lives.

“We’ll be able to make some inroads in, in lowering that risk factor by treating some, having the accessibility for diagnosis and treatment for those more simple diseases,” he says.

Edwards is pleased with the safe sex goodie bag she’s leaving with, but education is perhaps her greatest takeaway.

“Go get screened,” she says. “Never be scared. It’s your life. You only get one body. Take care of it, get checked. Do it.”

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