Health clinic suspends testing

By Lisa Schulz

Students who missed celebrating February as National Condom Month can still receive testing for sexually transmitted diseases, but they’ll have to travel off-campus and possibly pay their own way.

For the first time in five years, the Student Health Center in the Residence Center, 731 S. Plymouth Court, posted a notice that HIV and STD testing was suspended for the spring 2012 semester because of budget cuts from the free test provider, the Chicago Department of Public Health. Students in need of testing were advised to call (800) AID-AIDS for questions and referrals to local clinics with free HIV testing and STD testing for a fee.

“I would love to offer [testing] because I think it’s really important, and it’s a disappointment to me as well,” said Mark O’Brien, coordinator of Student Relations in the Health Center, which made testing a monthly event. “I’m hoping we don’t get killed because there’s nothing I can do. People are losing jobs, and losing homes and losing tons of things because of the economy, and unfortunately there [are] things beyond our control. It’s all filtering down to social service agencies.”

About 60 students used the testing service monthly, O’Brien said.

Jose Muñoz, CDPH’s deputy commissioner, said prevention services have been redeployed, and outreach is currently expanding to all colleges and universities through delegate agencies, including the Howard Brown Health Center, Children’s Memorial Hospital and the Center on Halsted. The delegate agency pairing with Columbia’s Student Health Center is unknown, he said.

Muñoz said epidemiology data determined which populations the CDPH focuses on and where more services are offered. The CDPH received a two-year, $5 million grant for HIV prevention programs throughout the city, which became available in January.

“The economy is going to affect everyone,” he said. “We’re going to be really focused and strategic on the ways we use our dollars. We have more this year. If we have $5 million, how far can we make that reach? Can we spread it out further? And if we can, then that’s the direction we’re going to move in.”

Each year, 19 million new STD infections are diagnosed, 50 percent of which are found in people ages 15–24, according to a 2009 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The report also stated 1.2 million Americans have HIV. Of that population, one out of five people aren’t aware of having the infection. According to a 2011 STI/HIV surveillance report from the CDPH, 20,391 people in Chicago have HIV.

The current student health fee of $40 for full-time students and $25 for part-time students funds counseling services, Student Relations and Services for Students with Disabilities in addition to the Health Center. Student enrollment determines the Health Center’s budget, said Beverly Anderson, assistant dean of Student Health and Support, in an email.

Raising tuition fees to hire a for-profit testing organization was not an option, said Student Government Association President Cassandra Norris. SGA considered footing the bill but found fees were “super expensive.”

Without an institutional discount, fees were $70–$120 per student, Norris said.

“Normally when we’re upping a fee, it’s something that we have to make sure is a guaranteed student want,” she said, adding that hypothetical calculations of the fees didn’t amount to a student majority. “We don’t want to charge everyone on campus for a service they might not use.”

Money has never been allocated for testing because it was a free service from the city, O’Brien said. Student enrollment and increasing scholarships are the college’s first priorities, he said.

According to prioritization documents, which are not a permanent allocation of funds, there is a rated priority regarding student health services, as previously reported by The Chronicle on Feb. 13.

The Student Health Center was rated “low” for unmet needs/demands with a ranking to “maintain stable resources,” while the scholarship program was rated “high” with a ranking for “growth and investment,” and Enrollment Management was rated “high” with a ranking to “maintain stable resources.”

Norris said Student Affairs is researching clinics for students to find testing as cheaply as possible, including Planned Parenthood of Illinois, which offers $30 HIV testing and $36 tests for gonorrhea and chlamydia.

Even though the travel and fees are inconvenient, students need to keep in mind that some colleges, like Roosevelt and DePaul universities, don’t have any student health services, Norris said.

“Our health services need to be a high priority,” she said. “Being healthy is something that needs to happen first and foremost for us to be productive students and members of society.”

For more information, call (800) AID-AIDS or Student Health and Support at (312) 369-8595.