The Los Angeles LGBT Center for now will not have to cut back on the free services it offers for treatment of sexually transmitted infections, thanks to a decision on Tuesday by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to allocate an additional $5 million for those services over the next two years.
The decision came in a vote on a proposal by 3rd District Supervisor Sheila Kuehl and 2nd District Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. Kuehl’s district includes West Hollywood, where the LGBT Center operates a small health clinic on Santa Monica Boulevard that provides free STI tests and treatments.
Earlier this month Darrel Cummings, the Center’s chief of staff, had warned that it would have to reduce the free testing and treatment services that it provided at the Center WeHo and its McDonald/Wright facility. Cummings said the county had not agreed to provide funding for an increase in its efforts to deal with sexually transmitted diseases, which are on the rise. Cummings said that meant the Center had had to redirect $1.1 million from other programs and services.
Cummings today praised the decision as “great news for the moment.”
“We consider this a great first step and an indication that the public health department and the board of supervisors are all recognizing the seriousness of the issues faced in LA County,” Cummings said. “Much more will have to be done as this solution is only temporary and with insufficient funds to address the full scope of the STD issues county-wide. We hope and believe that the current Los Angeles LGBT Center services will be maintained as a result of this action and this is indeed great news for the moment. We will be facing the same issue by the time these funds are used July 1 of next year.”
The money, which goes to the L.A. County Department of Public Health, will be used to continue funding STI services provided by the Center and others with whom the health department contracts and to expand such services to more communities.
A memorandum presented to the supervisors with the Kuehl/Ridley-Thomas motion notes that the State of California, despite many requests, has only provided $7 million in one-time funding increases for STI control measures in Los Angeles County. Federal funding nationwide fell by $21 million (a decline of 40%) between 2003 and 2016 in a calculation that adjusts the funding for inflation over that period.
“At the moment, there is very good communication taking place between the County and service providers, including the Center, so we are hopeful that we will find solutions going forward,” Cummings said. “At the very least, we have some time now to work together towards these ends.”
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in Los Angeles County have been increasing rapidly. L.A. County reported over 85,500 STI cases in 2016 including approximately 59,000 cases of chlamydia, 22,300 cases of gonorrhea, over 4,000 cases of early syphilis and 37 cases of congenital syphilis (CS). From 2015 and 2016, there was a 4% increase in chlamydia cases, a 27% increase in gonorrhea cases, and a 16% increase in early syphilis cases in LA County.
“A disproportionate number of STI cases occur among men who have sex with men (MSM), African American women, and transgender persons,” says a Health Department report. Forty percent of West Hollywood’s residents are said to be gay men.
In the last fiscal year the LGBT Center “provided testing during more than 25,000 client visits,” Cummings said in an interview earlier this month. “One result of this effort is that last year we diagnosed and treated 22% of all syphilis cases in L.A. County, thereby reducing the spread of this infection.”