Victoria area’s sexual health clinic might have to close

A widely used sexual health clinic that has served Greater Victoria since the 1960s might have to close because funding is not keeping up with demand for its services.

“We’ve struggled for a number of years and have done everything we can to trim costs and cut back,” said Bobbi Turner, executive director of Island Sexual Health. “But we owe money and if we can’t do something, we might have to cut services.”

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Island Sexual Health served 23,307 clients from age 11 to 85 last year. It has four clinics — its bustling main one on Quadra Street near McKenzie Avenue, ones for students at Camosun College and Belmont High School, and one at Tsawout that serves the four Saanich First Nations.

The clinics’ services include pap, pelvic and genital exams, birth control, emergency contraception, insertion of a intrauterine device contraceptive, pregnancy testing and planning, vaccination, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, and free condoms. Many of the services are available from family doctors, but Island Sexual Health says more than half its clients don’t have and can’t find a family doctor.

“Many come for paps, which have huge administrative costs,” Turner said. “Most doctors’ offices wouldn’t do 4,000 paps in a year.”

The non-profit organization also provides the sexual health education in schools that used to be done by public health. “If we’re not here, that’s a huge loss to the community. It will not be easy to access these services,” Turner said.

Turner said Island Sexual Health has a current budget shortfall of $135,000. Most of its $1.2-million annual budget comes from B.C.’s Ministry of Health, through Medical Services Plan fees paid for services provided by its doctors. However, not all services are billable. The non-profit receives B.C. gaming funds and $85,000 from Island Health.

Turner said she approached the ministry for help and was told to go to Island Health.

Jan Tatlock, director of public health for Island Health, said she has met with Island Sexual Health about the shortfalls but can’t see room in the authority’s budget to help.

“We just don’t have it and I truly understand it’s a tough spot to be in,” Tatlock said.

The Health Ministry did not address whether it would help Island Sexual Health, but spokeswoman Kristy Anderson said the ministry “recognizes the valuable service Island Sexual Health provides to residents on the South Island.”

She said the government is trying to help family doctors in B.C. accept more patients.

Family physician Jennifer Ross, who is also medical director for Island Sexual Health, said the clinics serve many needs, from a large number of youth curious about healthy sexuality to professionals who want specialized knowledge on everything from IUDs to sexually transmitted infections.

“I can’t imagine what would happen to this town without this clinic,” Ross said. “We see the trends in STIs [sexually transmitted infections] early, like evidence of a syphilis or gonorrhea outbreak.”

Sexual health awareness is especially crucial for youth, said the organization’s education co-ordinator, Jennifer Gibson. When young people obtain information and birth control measures, the average age of first-time sex rises, condoms are used more effectively and teen pregnancy drops, she said.

By the numbers: Island Sexual Health

• Founded in 1969 as part of Planned Parenthood and became an independent society in 1986

• Has 25 doctors working in rotation

• Served 23,307 clients in 2012-13, expects to see 26,000 in 2013-14

• About half of clients polled do not have a family doctor

• Diagnosed and treated 3,553 genital infections in 2012-13, including 231 positive chlamydia results, 22 cases of gonorrhea, seven cases of syphilis and two cases of HIV

• Makes presentations to 11,000 students and other citizens a year

• Performs 60 to 120 intrauterine device contraceptive insertions each month

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