Clinic closures cause concern

Interior Health will begin closing down public health STI clinics at end of year

Interior Health is rushing to reassure communities throughout the Okanagan that sexually transmitted infection (STI) and HIV services will continue to be available after public health STI clinics begin the shutdown process at the end of this month.

The clinics, which provide STI testing and treatment and HIV testing, are based in public health centres in five communities across the health authority, including Penticton. The last day for new intakes is Dec. 30 and services will be phased out by the end of January 2012.

Interior Health said the decision to discontinue these services is based on an extensive program review which found that 90 per cent of STI testing is being done by other providers such as physicians and walk-in clinics. However, groups like the Penticton and Area Women’s Centre said the clinics are far from under used.

According to the PAWC’s information, the Penticton clinic had about 800 visits in the last year, many from young women under the age of 19. Their concern is that many of these people may not be comfortable or able to utilize family doctors or walk-in clinics, the alternatives suggested by Interior Health.

Anne Clarotto, the IHA’s director for program and prevention services, doesn’t dispute that there may have been 800 visits, but said the majority of the visits were not for STI testing, and that is the only service being discontinued.

“The clinic did 324 STI tests last year,” said Clarotto. “We would still be connecting with those young women and giving them the information they need around sexual and reproductive health and assisting them with finding a provider that they are comfortable with.”

Clarotto said the decision to close the STI clinics wasn’t made lightly, but had to be made so they could move into a different area of practice without duplicating what doctors are currently doing.

“We are not getting out of the business of sexual and reproductive health, as far as promoting health and preventing illness,” she said. “What we are getting out of is the actual testing, diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted infections.”

Interior Health said no jobs will be lost with the change in service. Instead, staff will focus on other prevention and health promotion priorities. The nursing component to provide this service in the five affected communities equates to less than two full-time employees, as those nurses also provide other services at the health units.

“When other providers offer these services, we need to look at other population health needs and redirect our nursing resources into those areas that aren’t being offered,” said Clarotto.