UIC Nursing clinic improves sexual health in LGBTQ+ community

By Deborah Ziff Soriano

One year after opening, a UIC College of Nursing and UI Health clinic based at Center on Halsted has brought HIV prevention and STI treatment services to more than 100 of the center’s LGBTQ+ community members.

UIC Nursing clinical assistant professor Karen Cotler is lead provider for the weekly clinic, which offers HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis, a medication-based strategy to prevent HIV infection, and universal STI screening. The clinic opened in January 2021.

“It’s been a success,” Cotler said. “We’re getting a lot of people on PrEP who might not have been on it otherwise, and we’re treating a lot of STIs. I’m proud of a service that really does make an impact on infectious disease in the community.”

The clinic is aligned with the state of Illinois’ Getting to Zero initiative, which aims to end the HIV epidemic in the state by 2030.

“A PrEP clinic is what we see as the next evolution in HIV/AIDS care that we can be part of to get Illinois to zero new infections by 2030,” said Kim Fountain, chief administrative officer at Center on Halsted. “UIC Nursing has always been a trusted partner and is the perfect match for what we want this clinic to be.”

Center on Halsted, located in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood, is a comprehensive LGBTQ+ community center that offers cooking classes, yoga, group therapy and more — and is visited by more than 1,000 community members each day.

The center has long offered walk-in HIV testing, but previously referred community members to other sites for further treatment. Now, individuals who test negative — a prerequisite for PrEP treatment — are referred to the in-house clinic to be evaluated as candidates for PrEP.

Having the clinic located at the center offers both convenience and comfort, Fountain said.

“You can make your appointment before your volleyball match, or before you go to your reading group or your trans safety group,” she said. “The on-site clinic normalizes getting an HIV test, PrEP treatment or doing STI screening, weaving it into daily life.”

In its first year, there have been more than 250 visits to the clinic, which is open once a week. This includes follow-up visits for more than 100 unique patients.

Cotler said having an STI makes an individual more susceptible to HIV. With the help of a UIC family nurse practitioner student, Cotler tests the patients for STIs every three months. Through that universal screening, they’ve found a 30% positivity rate for asymptomatic STIs among the clinic’s visitors, which they’ve been able to treat.

“One of the benefits of having Dr. Cotler running the clinic is her insistence on doing universal STI screenings at the same time that she screens for PrEP,” Fountain said. “Employing this method of screening means she is much more likely to identify an STI and help get people into care than more traditional screenings. Our hope is that this clinic will become known for this type of LGBTQ+ competent, high-quality care.”

The UIC College of Nursing has a strong history with the Center on Halsted. Charles Yingling, former UIC Nursing associate dean for practice and partnerships, put together a proposal for the clinic in 2018, and BSN and DNP students have conducted health promotion projects there.

Cotler and Yingling will be delivering a presentation about the clinic at the American Association of Colleges of Nursing Doctoral Education pre-conference on faculty practice later this month.

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