Broward County is home to one of the most advanced STD clinics in the U.S., according to at least one prominent public health advocate.
“Broward has the newest and most advanced testing and treatment program in the United States,” said Jeffrey D. Klausner, Professor of Medicine and Public Health at UCLA. “That’s a breakthrough in terms of sexual health services. There is no reason, other than funding, that this couldn’t be replicated in urban areas around the United States.”
A recent report from the Centers of for Disease control showed in 2017, about 2.3 million cases of STDs were diagnosed. It marks the highest number ever reported, by more than 200,000 (the record previously set in 2016).
The Broward Wellness Center opened in 2013 to much fanfare after the The Florida Department of Health in Broward County handed over their STD clinical services to the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. Last year the clinic opened a larger location at 750 SE 3rd Ave. in Fort Lauderdale.
“We encourage our community to make HIV and STD testing a part of regular medical checkups. The Broward Wellness Center […] will provide even greater access to sexual health services on a walk in basis at no cost,” Dr. Paula Thaqi, Director, Florida Department of Health in Broward County, said in a press release when the new location opened last year.
In order to make the facility a reality, AHF had to close down some of their other locations and consolidate their resources into the Wellness Center. By doing so they were able to increase the availability of services by 36 hours a week.
On its first day open they saw 68 patients.
“It was very overwhelming and we had to change our staff plan almost immediately,” said Mike McKany, National Director of Public Health Division for AHF.
AHF has attempted to replicate this model elsewhere, but McKany said other places in the nation aren’t ready for this type of model - or say they’re not interested.
“This is really a revolutionary idea,” he said. “This is completely different and out of the box from anybody else.”
Since opening in 2013 the center has provided services to more than 100,000 patients. The center currently serves about 175 patients a day. Before 2013 AHF was able to serve only about 50 a day.
Some of the services offered at the clinic include Chlamydia screening and treatment; Gonorrhea screening and treatment; Syphilis screening and treatment; and free HIV testing and linkage to HIV primary care – all of which are free.
The Wellness Center is also able to process patients’ gonorrhea and chlamydia tests onsite within 90 minutes. Most medical offices have to send their the tests to outsides labs to get the results, which can take four to five days.
“From what I’ve heard we’re the only place doing this in the U.S.,” he said. “It’s pretty amazing.”
Once the results are in, the patient is notified via email or text, and they can check an app where all of their lab work is listed.
“You can get tested in the morning…coming back in the evening to get treated,” McKany said. “The speed is unheard of.”
Another advantage of the rapid results is reducing the overuse of antibiotics in treating STDs. Oftentimes if a patient was exposed to an STD, or exhibited the classical symptoms of one, a doctor would treat them right away, without knowing the results of the test.
“That’s called empirical treatment,” McKany said. “If someone is experiencing symptoms of gonorrhea [a doctor] might decide to treat them rather than wait. But many other things can mimic gonorrhea and chlamydia.”
Additionally the Florida Dept. of Health – Broward provides three Disease Intervention Specialists who work closely with the staff at the Wellness Center to ensure patients receive high quality care.
McKany explained that these people are able to access to the records from the state’s health department so they’re able to have a fuller picture of a person’s health history.
“It enables us to put together the pieces of a puzzle,” McKany said.
Imara Canady, AHF’s National Director of Communications & Community, added: “This is core to AHF’s mission – to provide really cutting edge medical care.”
But it’s not just the medical care that’s comprehensive – the design of the center is also innovative and inviting.
“There are oversized labs, natural light, a large waiting room,” McKany said. “It’s really different.”
But Canady added to this when asked what makes the Broward Wellness Center so unique.
“AHF is the only non-profit agency in the area that is providing this type of service to the community. These are cutting edge things having a positive impact on the population we are serving,” Canady said. “This [Wellness Center] is an example of a public-public partnership. We are a non-profit agency working in collaboration with the government. We’re client focused and not looking to make a profit.”
This is a fourth part of a series of reportsSFGN will publish on the rising STD rates in the U.S.