Health Care

Broward expects to treat twice as many STD patients with expanded free treatment

Broward Wellness Center
Broward Wellness Center

Broward County residents can now receive same day, no-cost test results and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS at the new Broward Wellness Center opened Thursday by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and the Florida Department of Health.

“South Florida is the epicenter of STDs in America and since it’s both a vacation destination and a freewheeling environment, it means that checkups have to be incorporated into people’s medical routine throughout the year,” said Michael Weinstein, president and CEO of AHF.

Commissioner Justin Flippen, vice mayor of Wilton Manors; Michael Weinstein, president and CEO of AIDS Healthcare Foundation; and Paula Thaqi, director of Florida Department of Health in Broward County cut the a ribbon to symbolize the opening of the new Broward Wellness Center. AIDS Healthcare Foundation

He explained that many people don’t realize they are infected and end up suffering and infecting others. People under 24, he added, are disproportionately infected with STDs, largely because of the lack of sex education and the stigma surrounding testing and treatment.

“A lot of people are uncomfortable talking to their medical providers about sexual issues and [would] rather come to a public health clinic than go and see their doctor,” said Weinstein.

The clinic, located at 750 SE 3rd Ave. in Fort Lauderdale, started accepting patients last week and does not require insurance or any payment.

“About four to five years ago we began this partnership with a vision,” said Paula Thaqi, director of the Florida Department of Health in Broward County. “And the vision was to provide accessible testing for STDs and HIV to our community on a walk-in basis, free to the client, at a convenient location, at convenient times, [and] without stigma.”

The original center, which opened in 2013, was able to treat about 150 people a day, according to Whitney Engeran, senior director of public health for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. The new building will accommodate 200-250 patients a day.

The Gene Xpert machine in the new Broward Wellness Center processes STD and HIV test results within an hour and a half. Ayanna Runcie

“We are now putting equipment down here that will allow us to process samples without sending them to the lab and then those results will be delivered directly to people’s cellphones in 90 minutes,” Engeran said. “The idea is … that we are getting things to people quickly and we are getting it to them in a way that they feel comfortable receiving it.”

The lab equipment will also allow for the center to do STD research, according to AHF’s Weinstein.

“We are trying to understand trends like antibiotic-resistant STDs,” he said. “We are also doing operational research to see if we can give people swabs to use at home and mail in. And we have partner care where if someone is symptomatic, we will give them medication to give to their partner.”

Weinstein said that he hopes the accessibility and aesthetic appeal of the clinic will encourage more people to come in for testing and treatment.

“The stereotype you have of an STD clinic, I always think of orange plastic chairs,” he said. “And it seems that the way it is decorated, and often times the attitude, is to reinforce your shame of having to go there in the first place.”

Michael Weinstein, president and CEO of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation addresses crowd at opening of the Broward Wellness Center. AIDS Healthcare Foundation