Pilot program to address high STD rates

A new approach will be pursued this summer to meet community health needs and expand services for testing and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases.
The Ector County Health Department was given the go-ahead for a pilot program that is expected to take some of the burden off the county clinic.
Two full-time registered nurses are currently on staff, but Health Department Director Gino Solla said it has not been enough to assist the number of patients walking through the door. He said his staff placed a sign outside of the facility Tuesday morning that notified the public they were closed within 25 minutes of opening and began diverting residents to the afternoon to manage the patient load.
“They’ll probably be diverted again because we only have one nurse, the other one is out today,” Solla said.
The health department’s website warns the public that this situation might occur due to the limited number of employees.
Services the clinic provides, like testing for chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis, have increased from 2017 to 2018. The total number of patients tested for the three STDs mentioned rose from 3,125 patients in 2017 to 3,235 patients last year, an increase of 110 people requesting screening. 
Data from the health department does not include people that sought testing elsewhere but merely those who they were able to accommodate with services. For example, 873 confirmed chlamydia cases in Ector County were reported to the Texas Department of State Health Services surveillance program in 2017, but the health department only reported 221 chlamydia cases confirmed by laboratory testing in their 2017 annual report.
“The levels of certain STIs, like chlamydia, have always been high, however, there are always spikes with the influx of new residents coming into the community,” Solla said.
Cristina Penon, a family medicine resident at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, approached Solla about conducting further STD education, testing and treatment throughout Ector County after local data caught her eye.
“Rates here are really high compared to the state of Texas and rates in the United States,” Penon said. “The age range that’s most affected is 15 to 24 year olds so I wanted to do something with the school district and with the colleges.”
Penon said Saturday clinics will be a primary way to try to reduce rates in the county while offering the most convenience and accessibility to that targeted age group.
“Texas Tech is already in the Ector County Independent School District providing some sex education so this would enhance that as well because it’s a three-tiered kind of approach: education, going out and screening and treating,” Solla said.
The one-year pilot program will cost the county about $5,000, which is a matching amount of what has been pledged by TTU, to add manpower to Ector County’s health services.
Penon said about 10 TTUHSC residents and medical students will help address what she describes as a “great need for this community” at the Texas Tech Physicians of the Permian Basin office in Odessa, located at 701 W. Fifth St.
The pilot program is anticipated to officially start around July 6 and will specifically serve those within the age ranges of 15 to 24 years of age.