As a former public health nurse who has worked in STD clinics in Penticton, Prince George, Kelowna and Vancouver, I am appalled at the shortsighted decision of Interior Health to close all STD clinics in the region. The Penticton clinic has been in existence since 1970.
As you can appreciate, the thought of having an STD is very anxiety producing — adding to this, you are a teen, you have had a partner out of marriage, you have no medical.
STD nurses are specialized in their field — since 2005 we have had to be certified by the CNRBC — acquiring skills to decrease a client’s anxiety which is paramount to getting an accurate sexual history. This can take a lot of time. STD clinics are comprehensive, one-stop shopping, ie history taking, physical exam, swabs, blood tests, contact tracing and medication. The STD clinic appointments are 45 minutes in length. Many of the people we see do not have an STD but they are worried, so we spend the time educate, prevent disease and promote a healthy sexual life.
Penticton will especially be impacted by the closure as we do not have any other comprehensive clinic in town such as Options for Sexual Health. Hence the fallout will be to the physicians and walk-in clinics. Some people do not want to see their own physician due to embarrassment, fear of a parent being informed if a teen, and fear of judgment (which is unfounded but real).
Many people do not have medical insurance although this should not be a barrier, as STD Control in Vancouver will pay for an STD visit and will pay for the medication. The difficulty is that neither the physician nor the walk-in is a one-stop shopping. The walk-in clinic appointments are much too short to do a thorough exam, history, treatment and follow up. Without MSP, just the visit to the walk-in clinic alone is $40-55. Unless IH has done a good job in informing the physicians and walk-in clinics of the change in the STD clinics, the client may be charged for the visit and the medication.
IH is taking us another step backwards in our health care — another gap in service, which in these times, we cannot afford. Why is Interior Health downloading the work of certified STD public health nurses to already overburdened physicians?