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Chaffee County Public Health has been awarded a Community Mobilization Grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. The purpose of this grant is to increase outreach and education related to the recommendations around prevention, testing and treatment of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). CCPH has also received funding to increase testing availability for STIs to ensure that as awareness around testing increases, residents have accessible ways to test and treat if necessary.

As a part of the requirements for this grant, CCPH has created a Harm Reduction Coalition to discuss the needs, barriers, and gaps in care for Chaffee County residents in terms of access to STI testing, treatment, and education. As this becomes a focus for CCPH, the community will begin to see an increase in information on STIs, testing and treatment resources. This focus on STI awareness and availability of testing is timely, as local data has shown a rise in STI rates within our own county. Data also shows this trend statewide, as Colorado is experiencing an overall uptick in STI cases.

As a first step, the Harm Reduction Coalition implemented a community needs assessment. The needs assessment utilized a community survey on sexually transmitted infections to obtain information to better understand the work to be done. The results of the survey are as follows:

In total, the survey received 78 responses, with 37.7% of respondents residing in BV/Nathrop, 58.4% residing in Salida/Poncha Springs, and the remaining 3.9% residing in another portion of Chaffee County. Of respondents, 69.7% identified as straight, 19.7% as bisexual, 2.6% preferred not to answer, 2.6% as asexual, 1.3% as pansexual, 2.6% as gay, 3.9% as lesbian, 2.6% as queer, and 5.3% as questioning/unsure. Age of respondents was as follows: 35.1% of respondents were between ages 30-39, 28.6% were 40-49, 18.2% were 19-29, 14.3% were 50-59, and the remaining 3.8 were 60+ years of age. 88.3% identified as cisgender female, 9.1% cisgender male, and 2.6% preferred not to answer.

In terms of barriers to getting testing and treatment, top themes in answers included: the expense of testing; lack of available doctors or unable to get an appointment; no insurance; not being able to take time off of work; unaware of the need to test or a lack of education on this matter; fear of privacy being breached due to living in a small community and concern for stigma or judgment around STI testing.

In an attempt to address some of these barriers mentioned above, CCPH has launched the Chaffee Community Clinic, a free mobile health clinic. Chaffee Community Clinic provides free STI testing, including rapid HIV and Hepatitis C, confirmatory testing for HIV and Hepatitis C, Gonorrhea, Chlamydia and Syphilis testing. No appointment is required, and clients can expect assistance in getting connected to treatment if needed.

The Chaffee Community Clinic operates out of the Salida Methodist Church parking lot from noon-4 p.m., Mondays in Salida and at the Buena Vista Community Center on Tuesdays from 1-4 p.m. The clinic also provides vaccines, basic medical screening, referrals to primary care, dental care, diabetes prevention programs, and behavioral health.

The 2019 Sexually Transmitted Infection Annual Report shows that in Colorado from 2015 to 2019, rates of chlamydia have increased by 18.3%, gonorrhea by 106% and syphilis by 144%. Though specific local data is challenging to find, anecdotally we believe this to also be true in Chaffee County, especially among teens and young adults. CCPH hopes that by increasing awareness of STI testing recommendations and providing free testing at the Chaffee Community Clinic that residents will begin to view STI testing as a part of their regular preventative case.

To better provide this important education around STI testing, CCPH has launched a media campaign centering around STI testing and treatment. The campaign will also highlight the availability of Chaffee Community Clinic to provide the needed services listed above to our community. This campaign will serve to educate and empower our community, as well as identify any gaps or barriers in care in Chaffee County.

“Sexually transmitted infections can be transmitted through many different types of intimate contact, not just intercourse. And sometimes a person can have an STI and not even know it. Testing regularly - once a year or with each new partner - is so important to protect yourself and your partner. The earlier the STI is detected and treated, the better the outcomes for everyone,” says CCPH RN Abigail Smedly.

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