As the counselor pulled Temin Pasang, 19, into the cold, little exam room her heart pounded and tears streamed down her face. When she came out, she started jumping up and down for joy having received the results she longed for.
“When I walked into the office the people were so cold, I felt like they were just staring at me and judging me,” Pasang said.
Like many who walked into the clinic Pasang found the atmosphere of the Jackson Heights branch of New York City Department of Health clinic cold and uncaring. It is one of many free HIV testing sites run by city health officials. On any given day, men, women and teenagers of all backgrounds bustled into the facility as soon as the door opened at 8:30 a.m. till they turned the lights off at 4:30 p.m. Some said they dreaded the implications of going into the clinic. They felt stigmatized.
“When I walked in there I felt like everyone was watching me, I even heard one of the nurses whisper: ‘isn’t she too young?’” said Nicky Grillo, 14.
When visitors come to take a test, they are taken into a small room with the registrar. They fill out a small index card and if they choose to remain anonymous, the only information that is taken in their zip code and their date of birth. On a visit last month the woman who registered people did not attempt any type of conversation; she just obtained the patients information and told them to wait until their number was called. As the person proceeds to the procedure room where the blood is taken, the laboratory technician said exactly two phrases “lift your sleeve up” and “make your fist into a ball”. The staff see on average 40-50 people daily.
“There just isn’t enough time to give everyone the attention that they need” Lucinda Williams, the clinic manager said.
“If someone shows signs of violence towards themselves or anyone else then we intervene.”
Nevertheless the HIV clinic has made strides in educating many people or the risks and prevention methods for HIV. And the annual percentages of HIV in Queens has decreased over the years. Walking up the steps in the main lobby there is a table set up with brochures, flyers and free condoms provided by health officials. According to the 2008 health department statistics, 13.3% of the population in Queens mainly Black and Hispanic has tested positive for HIV. That is a two percent decrease from 2007.