Imagine being able to test yourself for HIV in the comfort of your own home. Empath Partners in Care (EPIC), a member of Empath Health, is making this possible through a free, at-home testing program for anyone living in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.
These counties have some of the highest rates of new HIV infections in the country. However, as a result of COVID-19 safety precautions, EPIC has paused many community outreach and mobile testing events. Providing at-home test kits is a new way to increase access to testing for individuals who otherwise might not get tested. Though COVID-19 is demanding attention, it is essential that individuals continue to have access to HIV testing and quality care services.
“We understand that right now many people are uncomfortable going out and being around other people, but still need to know their status,” says Sheryl Hoolsema, EPIC director for Pinellas County. “Offering this additional service ensures these individuals stay informed on their sexual health.”
Through the new program, test kits can be picked up at an EPIC office, delivered to an individual’s home or mailed upon request. Every individual who requests a kit will have access to a counselor throughout the process. The testing counselor will review the process for conducting the test, which consists of a simple oral swab. There is no need to mail the test back or wait weeks for results. The test is processed at home in about 20 minutes.
For those who choose to pick up the test or have it dropped off, a counselor will follow up that day to see if the test has been completed and to inquire about the results. If the test is mailed, a counselor will call in a few days to ensure the kit was received and discuss results or review how to conduct the test. Testing counselors can also remain on the phone while the test is processing and immediately review the results.
For anyone whose results come back reactive, EPIC can help get started with services and treatment for living healthy. If a test comes back non-reactive, counselors can provide information about how to avoid contracting HIV.
“We are still welcoming people into the office for testing and in-depth counselling, however those who choose to test at home will still have access to the same information and resources,” adds Hoolsema.
Testing kits can be picked up at EPIC locations in St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Tampa. Interested individuals should contact a Prevention and Outreach team member by calling (727) 328-3260 and asking for a member of the team or request through the EPIC website. In-office rapid testing is still available at both Pinellas County locations.
Learn more about how Empath Partners in Care can help you or a loved on connect with care, support and prevention services for HIV.