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$2.5M federal funding cut forces city to close free STI clinic in Englewood

Ray Lopez

Ald. Ray Lopez has criticized a police shooting of a teen that led to a multimillion dollar settlement by the city. | Sun-Times file photo

A $2.5 million federal funding cut tied to Chicago’s success in combating HIV has forced the closing of one of only four city-run clinics that offer free testing and treatment for sexually-transmitted diseases.

The Jan. 12 closing of the Englewood STI Specialty Clinic, 641 W. 63rd Street, means that Englewood residents with the wherewithal will have to pay for HIV testing, treatment of sexually transmitted diseases and birth control services that the city had been providing for free.

The shuttered clinic was located in the basement of a building that houses the University of Illinois at Chicago Miles Square Health Center and a Howard Brown clinic. Both offer comprehensive health care with a sliding scale of fees based on a patient’s ability to pay.

The other three city-run STI clinics are located in Austin, Lake View and Roseland.

“We have new partners at that same Englewood location, so there isn’t a shortage of service…We only offered HIV services. They offer comprehensive primary care and reproductive care,” said Health Department spokesperson Anel Ruiz.

“If they can pay, they will be asked to pay. But no one will be turned away for an inability to pay.”

Local Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) played down the impact on Englewood residents.

“My experience with Howard Brown, which has been a staple in the LGBTQ community, is that they do take payments, but on a sliding scale. They’ve always been willing to work with people,” Lopez said.

“If we had no community partners helping us pick up where the federal government is pulling back, this would be a travesty. However, Howard Brown and Miles Square are committed to keeping these testing opportunities available to people on the South Side.”

Lopez said he knows first-hand how traumatic it can be to be forced to leave your neighborhood to get tested for HIV.

“When I was 21, I had to go on a train by myself to the Howard Brown clinic in Uptown,” Lopez said.

“The fact that these clinics are committed to being on the South Side is an absolute benefit to the neighborhood.”

Ruiz argued that Chicago is a victim of its own success when it comes to combating HIV.

In 2016, the city reached a new low of 839 new HIV infections, down from 1,850 new HIV cases in 2001.

“We have those great results, coupled with the fact that the CDC [Centers for Disease Control] adjusted their funding formula for HIV prevention and surveillance. As a result, we saw a reduction of $2.5 million [in federal funding] from the year before,” Ruiz said.

Ruiz acknowledged that Chicago still has a long way to go, particularly among African-Americans.

Blacks accounted for 58.5 percent of newly-diagnosed cases of HIV and 56.4 percent of AIDS diagnoses, she said.

Last fall, Mayor Rahm Emanuel embraced an ambitious plan aimed at eliminating new diagnoses of HIV in Chicago and across the state over the next decade.

The partnership between the city and state Departments of Public Health, 10 community organizations hospitals was appropriately called “Getting to Zero.”

It has two main goals: To increase the use of prevention medications among the most vulnerable to the disease and ensure that 70 percent of all people living with HIV receive the medication they need to reduce the “viral load” that officials said “significantly reduces the risk of transmission.”