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Healthcare providers gather to address rates of STIs, teen births

Cass Herrington
Peoria Public Radio

Nearly 100 medical professionals and students met last week to discuss ways to boost collaboration and bring down Peoria's staggering rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, which surpass state and national figures. 

The latest Health Department data shows rates of teen pregnancy in Peoria compare to developing countries, like Botswana and Romania. The department says in the 61605 zip code, rates of gonorrhea are ten times the national rate. 

Specialists from OSF HealthCare, Heartland Community Health Clinic and UnityPoint Clinic sat side-by-side on a panel at the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Peoria on Oct. 28.  The talk was moderated by the City/County Health Department. 

The department says the intention was to discuss ways local providers can collaborate to reduce Peoria’s high rates of STIs and teen births.

All three providers offer reproductive health services, but OSF's facilities don’t provide birth control, due to the Vatican’s stance on contraception.

During the discussion, a UnityPoint family medicine physician Rahmat Na'allah asked OSF ethicist Joseph Piccione whether the hospital could refer patients seeking contraceptives to her practice across the street:

“I think that, not each practitioner would be aware of yourself, or other specific practitioners or sites. They might be aware of Heartland for instance,” Piccione said in reply. 

Piccione says he doesn’t think OSF would refer patients needing birth control to UnityPoint Clinic “for moral reasons” and because they’re in a different network. Instead, he says, OSF is focusing its efforts on the testing and treatment of STIs.

Heartland Community Clinic says it currently accepts referrals from OSF. Though, James Kerns, Heartland's resident training medical director, says its Armstrong Ave. and Garden St. locations do not provide birth control because the buildings are owned by OSF.

Three District 150 students representing the Youth Advisory Council also participated on the panel. The student-led group was set up last year to give youth representation in the effort to reduce the rates of teen pregnancy and STIs. 

Alex Sierra is a senior at Manual Academy.  He says, for the most part, his peers typically seek treatment or testing for STI's in the Emergency Room -- rather than in a clinic or primary care setting. 

“Because once it gets noticeable, I’m sorry, but if it comes up I’m not going to wait a day or two to go to my doctor," Sierra said.  "I’m going to go to an ED.”

Sierra's response was reflected in the Health Department's data, which found the majority of positive STI tests are diagnosed in emergency departments. 

OSF says this creates unnecessary congestion in ER departments. The hospital and other health care providers say they’re willing to work together to improve access to treatment and prevention.

The panel was sponsored by UICOMP, the Peoria City/County Health Department, Heartland Community Health Clinic and UnityPoint Clinic.