In March 2015, New York’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, or DOHMH, closed the busiest free STD clinic in the city, without advance notification to the community and apparently without many plans to serve the 20,000 annual patients who used the clinic’s services. A 36 percent reduction in finding for DOHMH has forced city officials to cut back on the services it provides for sexually-transmitted diseases and HIV. This comes at a time when there has been a substantial increase in STDs in New York, which already has one of the highest HIV infection rates in the country.
The Chelsea neighborhood has a syphilis infection rate that’s six times higher than the rest of the city and the highest HIV infection rate in New York. The Chelsea clinic was closed for a renovation that’s expected to take up to three years. Now, community members are directed to other city clinics and a mobile unit provides HIV and STD tests for up to 15 patients per day. Visits overall to city clinics, however, have declined by almost 20 percent since the clinic closed.
Officials believe that fewer patients are getting tested at New York’s free STD clinics because they are going to their own doctors to get tested for STDs and HIV. Previously, free STD clinics were one of the only providers of STD testing and HIV screening services for people without health insurance. Now, however, because of Obamacare, many of the people that might have previously gone to a free STD clinic can now go to their own doctors to get tested and get treatment.
At the same time the City of New York is cutting back on HIV testing services, the state of New York is investing $10 million in an “End the Epidemic” campaign to promote HIV testing and treatment. The goal of the campaign is to end the HIV epidemic in New York by the end of 2020. Activists claim that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s policies are reducing the chance that New York City will achieve its goal to reduce the number of HIV infections in the city.
AIDS activits claim that the reduction in the city’s STD services impacts the people who most need them. About 75 percent of patients who tested positive for HIV at New York STD clinics are black or Latino, about 60 percent were under age 30 and more than 80 percent were men who have sex with men. These are the same population groups that are the hardest to convince to get HIV and STD tests so they can begin treatment and stop spreading the disease.
ACT-UP and the Treatment Action Group are holding a neighborhood town hall meeting in September 2015 to discuss the closing of the Chelsea clinic. The groups also published a report, Trends in DOHMH-Funded HIV Testing and Sexual Healthcare Provision V3.