Have you thought about getting tested for HIV? Did you know you can get tested for free?
Today’s National HIV Testing Day and we join in encouraging individuals to get tested for HIV and other STDs (sexually-transmitted diseases). “More than 1.1 million people in the U.S. are living with HIV today, and 1 in 7 of them don’t know it,” reports hiv.gov, adding, “Southern states bear the greatest burden of HIV, accounting for 50% of new infections in 2014.”
EPIC (Empath Partners in Care), a member of Empath Health, offers free and confidential HIV testing at our locations in Clearwater, St. Petersburg and Tampa, in our mobile unit and at our special testing events. You don’t need an appointment and you can get your results in about 15 minutes.
Dartange Scott has dedicated many years to preventing HIV and helping those who are infected. In this Q&A, he talks about his calling to this field and the satisfying outreach and support he provides to the community as a comprehensive risk counselor for EPIC.
Q&A: Dartange Scott, EPIC Comprehensive Risk Counselor
1. What’s your background?
I’ve been working at EPIC for about 15 years. Before that, I was chasing my dreams of things I wanted to do, including truck driving, fumigation and paralegal work.
2. Why did you go into the HIV field?
When I was living in New York, I came home with a school project to write about HIV or cancer. My mom said, “Your grandmother died of HIV.” When she passed, it was hush, hush. I wrote my HIV paper and did well. Ever since then, it has been a big interest of mine. After I moved here, I met and played basketball with Tyrone Singletary, who does the same work I do at EPIC. I felt like I was supposed to be drawn in this direction.
3. What’s your job at EPIC?
I do counseling about healthy prevention behaviors with our high-risk clients, testing in the community and seek incentives for our testing program.
4. Where do you do testing?
Our grant allows us to meet clients where they are, and as long as we get permission we’ll do testing anywhere. In Clearwater, we work closely with the City of Clearwater and build relationships with the Parks and Recreation department, Clearwater Homeless Intervention Project and other organizations. We’ve also done testing and prevention education in Safety Harbor, St. Petersburg, Tarpon Springs and other areas. I’ve even done testing at a friend’s salon in Palm Harbor.
Roughly 80% of our comprehensive risk counseling program’s intakes are through going out to meet-and-greets at health screenings and other events. It’s about having a common face with folks in the community so we’re not strangers. There’s still a stigma about testing, but we keep going out to try to become the norm.
5. What ages have you tested?
I’ve tested people ages 13 to 74.
6. What’s the testing process like?
Nerve racking. Sometimes people come in with bad energy and it’s so hard to lift them up. They might say, “I’ve been having sex with someone who’s HIV-positive and I just need to know.” It’s a very teachable moment because we have people’s undivided attention.
7. What kind of support do you provide following a test?
I have a hands-on, straightforward approach. If people test negative, we talk to them about using condoms and protection and refer them to the health department for a full STD screening. For positive individuals, we refer them to services and ask them to bring in their partners to see us. The good news is we have so many services in house that can help people.
8. What do you find most meaningful about your work?
One of the things that has kept me here so long is that I love the person-to-person contact. I also have a good rapport with our staff and surrounding agencies. I have the best team. It’s always refreshing to see the effort and passion they put forth on a daily basis.
9. What lessons have you learned?
The biggest lessons I’ve learned are humbleness, humility and love.
Find Out – Get Tested