Benton-Franklin Health District to end HIV testing

By Sara Schilling, Tri-City HeraldJuly 4, 2013 

The Benton-Franklin Health District no longer is offering routine HIV testing and also is dropping some HIV prevention services.

Heather Hill, the health district's communicable disease program supervisor, said the decision was made with the state HIV Prevention Planning Group -- and it was a difficult one.

The change is meant to line up the state HIV prevention approach with national strategy, she said.

That national strategy includes moving funding to areas with the highest infection rates, which in Washington means Spokane, Vancouver and the Seattle metro area.

Benton-Franklin is a "moderate incidence" area.

Hill said just more than 200 people have tested positive for HIV in the bicounty area since the health district began collecting data in the 1980s.

HIV is a virus that can lead to AIDS. In 2012, more than 11,000 people statewide were reported to be HIV-positive, according to a state Department of Health report.

The local health district changes took effect this month.

The district was receiving state and federal money for the prevention work, covering a full-time employee. The employee isn't being laid off and will perform other duties, Hill said.

During a typical week, up to eight people sought HIV testing through the health district, she said, noting most weren't at high risk for infection and took the test more to ease their minds.

Along with the routine testing, some of the health district's education and intervention work targeting high-risk groups also is ending.

But not all HIV-related services are going away. The health district still will provide HIV tests to people who have an HIV-positive partner.

And the HIV case management program -- which provides help accessing medical care and housing, among other services -- also will continue, Hill said.

She noted HIV tests now are widely available and can be arranged through medical providers from urgent care to family physicians.

Dr. Amy Person, the district's health officer, said her organization also is trying to spread the word in the local medical community about the testing changes.

In the past, "a lot of providers have sent people to us to test for HIV," she said.

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