Expanded HIV Screening Coming to St. Louis Area

City of St. Louis Department of Health Partners with Christian Hospital

August 11, 2021 | 2 min reading time

Expanded human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) screening will soon be available in the St. Louis metropolitan area. Being responsible for HIV prevention services for the region and the manager of the Health Resources & Services Administration’s Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, the City of St. Louis Department of Health is partnering with Christian Hospital and Northwest HealthCare to provide HIV testing during Emergency Department services at the two Christian facilities. Patients will be provided the screening, unless they decline the test. This service is known as opt-out screening.

For the past 15 years the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended all health care patients be offered the chance to decline HIV testing after being informed that the test will be conducted for the other services they are seeking. The CDC estimates that of the 1.1 million people in the United States with HIV, nearly 15% (1 in 7) are unaware of their status. It’s been reported that approximately 40% of new HIV infections are transmitted by undiagnosed individuals unaware they have the disease.  

“Data shows that African Americans are under-served for HIV screening and treatment services in the north St. Louis County service area where the opt-out approach to HIV screening will be implemented,” says Dr. Fredrick Echols, acting director of health for the City of St. Louis. “Our new partnership with Christian Hospital increases opportunities for more individuals to obtain optimum health and live the healthiest life possible, no matter who we are, where we live, or how much money we make. Furthermore, we hope this will help reduce the stigma of sexual health screening in communities that are disproportionately affected by sexually transmitted infections (including HIV).”

“Opt-out HIV screening aligns with the core purpose of Christian Hospital, to help people enjoy life by improving their health,” said Rick Stevens President of Christian Hospital. “We know that individuals diagnosed in the early stages of HIV can be afforded years of life, if treatment is started before symptoms develop. The earlier the diagnosis, the earlier a person can begin treatment.” 

Dr. Echols said that one reason other hospital systems using the opt-out approach to HIV screening have seen uptakes in screening rates is the approach de-stigmatizes the procedure as people feel less singled out compared to the opt-in consent method. He said the way we ask is a key element of efforts to increase screening rates for the region. The ask in many ways may be as important as the screening to increase screening.

For additional information about the opt-out screening approach at Christian Hospital contact Dana Ballinger at dana.ballinger@bjc.org

Christian Hospital and Northwest HealthCare, members of BJC HealthCare, provide world-class medical care to the communities of North County, Greater St. Louis County and Southern Illinois.

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