Recent headlines indicated a planned closure of the Penticton Sexual Health Clinic which does STI testing. The article indicated that most of the testing is done through family doctors or the walk-in clinic, and it was suggested that loss of service to Penticton and the South Okanagan would be minimal.
This is not the whole story. Firstly, the clinic had approximately 800 visits in the last year and the majority of the women were between the ages of 15 to 19. Many of these young people do not have a family doctor or are not comfortable in attending the walk-in clinic for sexual health. Clients who are bisexual/ gay or transgender may be very reluctant to go to a walk-in clinic or to discuss their sexuality with the family doctor (if they have one) who has treated them from childhood. There is a need for emotionally safe professional service that can provide both the STI testing as well as education and counselling. The Penticton Sexual Health Clinic provides this service.
The nurses who staff the Penticton clinic have all been certified in sexual health by the B.C. College of Registered Nurses. This is their area of expertise and they provide unconditional acceptance and understanding for a wide range of sexual issues. The extended appointment time (45 minutes) allows them a greater opportunity to provide education on sexual health as well as addressing concerns the client may have. Many of the young clients are just beginning to be sexually active in the community and the education they receive will help them make informed choices about their sexual health.
Other regions in Interior Health have outreach clinics that can provide the type of service that is currently offered by Penticton Sexual Health Clinic. There is no outreach clinic in Penticton or the South Okanagan. The Penticton and Area Women’s Centre is concerned that the clients who currently use the clinic will have no emotionally safe place to go where they can access sexual health services. As a result, they may make personal choices based on misinformation and a lack of understanding.
In summary, the clinic in Penticton offers valuable service to a group of vulnerable clients who are unlikely to be able to advocate for themselves. The Penticton and Area Women’s Centre would like to see Interior Health reconsider the decision to close the Sexual Health Clinic in Penticton or examine some alternatives that would give the clients an equivalent level of service.
Elmie Saaltink, board chair
Penticton and Area Women’s Centre