As Baton Rouge gains national notoriety as the country’s per capita AIDS capital, a local clinic specializing in HIV/AIDS testing is adding testing for other sexually transmitted diseases to its list of medical services.
The AIDS Healthcare Foundation clinic, 8281 Goodwood Blvd., recently began offering wellness testing for chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis on from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Mondays and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every other Saturday, in addition to its normal HIV/AIDS testing.
Free treatment for those who test positive for STDs will also be offered.
“As our numbers grow, we will expand those hours,” Leah Cullins, nurse practitioner at the clinic said.
Albert Ruiz, national director of the wellness programs for the Aids Healthcare Foundation, said roughly 20 percent of people with HIV/AIDS have an STD.
“It’s very common in many of our clinics when people come in to test for an STD to also find out that they may have had an exposure to HIV also,” he said. “STD rates are very high here.”
Centers for Disease Control statistics from 2011 show Baton Rouge had 3,284 reported cases of chlamydia, 1,015 reported cases of gonorrhea and 54 reported cases of primary and secondary syphilis.
Baton Rouge also has the highest rate of new AIDS cases in the country with a rate of 29. That means 29 people out of every 100,000 of population were diagnosed with AIDS in 2011, the CDC said in March. New Orleans ranks fourth in the country with a rate of 25.
J.T. Lane, assistant secretary for the state Department of Health and Hospitals’ Office of Public Health, said he welcomes new HIV/AIDS and STD testing and treatment clinics because those CDC stats put Baton Rouge at the top of lists no city, parish or state want to head.
Ruiz said AHF decided to open a clinic in the capital city because of Baton Rouge’s high AIDS rate and because recent government budget cuts have forced some medical facilities to scale back their operations.
Ruiz said he thinks one reason Baton Rouge’s AIDS rate is so high is because people just do not want to get tested or do not know where to get tested.
Mike McKany, national deputy wellness director, said patients cite various reasons for not wanting to get tested, including fears the results will be leaked or that a doctor might tell the rest of their family.
“There’s a certain comfort I think people find in not going to a government agency for this kind of stuff,” McKany said.
Walking around the AHF clinic, Cullins, the nurse practitioner, said they strive to make a “comfortable, personal and compassionate environment” and they pride themselves on making patients who may be getting life-altering news as comfortable as possible.
They even painted the walls in the exam and testing rooms light colors they said can have a soothing effect.
“When they come to get HIV tested, those are the longest 15 minutes of their lives,” Cullins said of the time it takes to get the results of an oral swab back. “So we want to make them as comfortable as possible.”