Cook County Jail will resume HIV/STD testing for the first time since 2007.
In a June 24 press conference, Cook County Board Commissioner Bridget Gainer announced a program that will screen county detainees for HIV, gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis, and revealed a new 22-room intake facility.
Rev. Doris Green of the AIDS Foundation Chicago hailed the program as "a tremendous step towards fighting HIV in Cook County."
"If we are to make a difference in the AIDS epidemic, we must reach people at risk where they are, and sometimes that's behind bars," Green said.
Approximately 100,000 people pass through the jail every year. Under the old "opt-in" system, detainees only received an STD/HIV screening if they asked for it. A program that had screened for chlamydia and gonorrhea was cancelled with budget cuts in 2007. Detainees have not been tested regularly since. Under the new program, all detainees will be tested unless they choose to opt out.
According to the Center for Disease Control ( CDC ) , Chicago has the highest rates of chlamydia in the nation, and the second and third highest rates of gonorrhea and syphilis. Read more story below....
"When people know that they're positive, they change their behavior and stop transmitting it to other people," Gainer told the Windy City Times.
The new construction also brings the jail into accordance with CDC and U.S. Department of Justice recommendations. The jail had been doing health intake alongside custody processing, making it difficult for detainees to seek medical advice privately. The new clinic will separate the two functions and divide detainees into individual cubicles. Jail physicians say that more privacy will mean more testing.
Jail doctors estimate that 7,000-10,000 detainees are tested annually. They hope that number will now exceed 50,000.
The program will use existing staff and equipment to process tests, limiting costs to the tests themselves. New technology at Stroger Hospital will process blood tests overnight, with patients being informed by morning of positive results.
"People are only here for a limited amount of time," said Avery Hart M.D., the chief medical officer at the jail. He said that overnight testing would help physicians connect detainees to care even if they were released shortly after arrest. Hart also said that the program would cut down on advanced-stage cases of HIV in jail, minimizing health and financial losses in Cook County. "If you treat a patient with HIV early, it's cost-effective."
Gainer's office secured funding for the program by cutting spending on law firms outside the state's attorney's office. Approximately $1.2 million fueled the start-up of the testing program as well as another program for incarcerated mothers. The re-directed spending will fund the testing program indefinitely.
Gainer said she wants Chicago physicians to talk to former detainees about their test results and follow up with care.
"Most of the people who come through county jail are low-income people," she said. "They deserve healthcare just like everybody else."
The new facility is expected to open in July, after construction is completed.