A new EPIC place for sexual health care –
Meet the team: (left to right) Katelyn Rosario, Medical Receptionist, Kellie Bonsor, ARNP, and Susan Finkelstein, RN
BY KAREN DAVIS-PRITCHETT, Vice President of Access and Inclusion at Empath Health
Imagine a place where everyone could find the answers they need about their sexual health, without judgment.
Lucky for the St. Petersburg community, the new Empath Partners in Care (EPIC) sexual health center combines inclusive and safe sex education with treatment and prevention services in one convenient location.
“One of the questions we get frequently is ‘where can I ask about safe sex and get tested for sexually transmitted infections,'” said Susan Finkelstein, RN, head of medical and educational services for EPIC. âSo we decided to combine all the different potential resources in one place. “
The rates of new sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are worrying, especially among the black community. On average, African Americans are about six times more likely to be infected with an STI and account for almost half of new HIV infections.
Currently, Florida has the highest rate of new HIV infections in the United States. In Pinellas County, gonorrhea, chlamydia and congenital syphilis have also been on the rise for several years. The rise in infections can be attributed to a reluctance to seek education and treatment due to lack of economic resources, barriers to access, lack of culturally sensitive providers, and past experiences of discrimination.
When people are too afraid to ask questions about their sexual health, they may turn to the internet or other sources which may not be reliable. Symptoms may not be present with some STIs and can cause long-term health problems if left untreated, making the need for education and screening even more important.
âThe only way to reduce the rate of STIs in the community is through education, prompt treatment and prevention of transmission,â Finkelstein added. âThese are the three key objectives of the program.
EPIC’s Sexual Health Center prides itself on being a sex-friendly environment to encourage questions and eliminate misinformation. All sexual orientations, gender expressions, relationship styles and lifestyle choices are accepted without judgment.
âThe moment someone walks in, they tell us who they are. They tell us what they need. Then we follow up by providing that service or that information, âFinkelstein explained.
This includes having a conversation with the client to ensure that we are providing the best testing, treatment, and education. Clients have access to rapid STI testing, including free HIV testing. If a test is positive, clients can begin treatment in the office that day and leave with a prescription if additional doses are needed.
In addition to educational materials to prevent future infections, clients have access to prevention tools such as free condoms and dental dams. If HIV is a problem, the Sexual Health Center also offers prescriptions for PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), which can help prevent infection, and PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis), which can be taken anywhere. 72 hours after potential exposure.
The Sexual Health Center is open six days a week. No appointment is necessary, making it easy for everyone to receive the care they need in a welcoming environment.
âWe don’t want people to be afraid to come in,â Finkelstein added. âThe EPIC Sexual Health Center is a place where everyone can be safe, comfortable and receive support. “
Learn more about the EPIC Sexual Health Clinic by visiting SiYouSex.org.