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Gay City loses funding for gonorrhea and chlamydia testing
Gay City loses funding for gonorrhea and chlamydia testing
by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Gay City Health Project recently announced it will no longer offer free chlamydia or gonorrhea testing for its Gay and Bisexual male clients, effective immediately. The agency is unable to continue the service due to a cut in funding from the Seattle/King County Public Health Department. Gay City will continue to offer testing for syphilis and HIV, and NAT testing which can detect early HIV infections. The Harborview STD Clinic offers gonorrhea and chlamydia testing on a sliding fee scale.

Gay City Health Project provided gonorrhea and chlamydia testing for asymptomatic clients under contract with the Health Department. Clients who presented symptoms of gonorrhea or chlamydia were referred directly to treatment providers. Under the terms of their contract, Gay City provided testers and facilities, and the Health Department provided materials and paid for lab work. According to Dr. Matt Golden, Medical Director of Harborview's STD Clinic, this was intended to be a "pilot program" starting in 2006, and running for all of 2007. After reviewing the program's results, Golden said the Health Department concluded the program was "not productive."

"It just didn't work out," Golden said. "The total number of cases ID'ed was less than 20. Gay City's rate of positive tests was about 1%, compared to 5%-7% positives at Harborview STD Clinic. We felt we could use the scarce resources better in other areas."

In response to an inquiry by Seattle City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, Public Health Manager Jerry DeGrieck said "The cost of providing the lab work for each case finding was about $35,000. It simply wasn't worth the expense by anyone's standards." Rasmussen is Vice Chair of the Seattle/King County Board of Health, and requested information about the Health Department's contract with Gay City.

Gay City Executive Director Fred Swanson said that in spite of the relatively low rate of positive tests and the expense of lab work, offering a full range of STD testing was a benefit to the community. "We're definitely disappointed to lose the service, and fought hard to maintain it," Swanson said. "We tested nearly 800 men for gonorrhea or chlamydia last year alone, and referred hundreds more with symptoms to a treatment provider. Ideally, this kind of testing should be offered with our other services, but that can't always happen when we rely on public funding."

Swanson said that Gay City "had extensive conversations with the Health Department through our contract monitor" aimed at continuing the testing service. "This is another case of Public Health moving toward a managed care model, where bottom-line considerations are driving policy, instead of community needs" he said. "It's a shame that's the case."

Golden sought to reassure the LGBT community that Seattle/King County Public Health continues to be supportive of community health efforts. "Let's keep this in context," he said. "The Health Department funds Gay City at the level of about $150,000 per year. We remain very committed to Gay City's Health Project and to the health of Gay men."

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