Douglas County Department of Corrections HIV Opt-In Testing Pilot Project

Students from the HIV opt-in testing project team gathered outside the jail.

This project will be undertaken by the following project team: Dr. Ruth Margalit, associate professor, COPH Department of Health Promotion, Social and Behavioral Health; Dr. Monirul Islam, assistant professor, COPH Department of Epidemiology; Dr. Kari Simonsen, assistant professor, COM Department of Pediatrics; Dr. Uriel Sandkovsky, assistant professor, COM Department of Internal Medicine; Dr. Mark Foxall, interim director of corrections, Douglas County Department of Corrections; Ms. Mary Earley, captain, Douglas County Department of Corrections; Dr. Adi Pour, director, Douglas County Health Department; Ms. Ann Smolsky, outreach coordinator, Nebraska AIDS Project; and Mr. Raees Shaikh, PhD student in the COPH Department of Health Promotion, Social and Behavioral Health. A student board including UNMC students from the COPH, COM, COP and CON, as well as SOM students from Creighton, will assist with the project.

Douglas County, Nebraska, has a high prevalence of sexually transmitted infections. The local jail has emerged as a crucial public health partner positioned to facilitate interventions to reduce STI rates within its high risk populations. In 2008, the project developed an innovative program to address the problem through collaboration between the jail, local health departments, public health agencies, and the Service Learning Academy at the College of Public Health. The program incorporates an interactive educational program to inform inmates about STIs and provide treatment. With the funding from the Great Plains Public Health Training Center, rapid HIV screening and counseling, with linkage to care, will be offered upon exit from the jail. The program presents an opportunity for health professions students to develop public health knowledge, along with organizational, communication and leadership skills, while engaging in hands-on interprofessional education and practice, ultimately leading to personal and professional growth.

Barb Glaser, education and programs coordinator in the Douglas County Department of Corrections, notes that “The students bring enthusiasm and a fresh perspective to our jail world. The benefits go far beyond the positive and negative tests results. The inmates learn that they are not invisible to the rest of the world. The students learn that people who are inmates today may be out tomorrow—living and working in the same community with the rest of us. They need good information, not urban myths, about STIs!” Michelle Fickes, LPN, pharmacy coordinator for Correct Care Solutions/Douglas County Department of Correctional Services, has observed that “All of the students are always very friendly and have great attitudes. They are very willing to learn and always ask appropriate questions. I have guided a few through the process of giving injections, and each one of them has done a wonderful job! Captain Mary Earley, CJM, Chief of Admissions in the Douglas County Department of Corrections, says that “It is encouraging to see so many participants from multiple agencies work together to resolve a public health issue. People are actually excited to work together and to explore the different facets each organization brings to the table. Solving issues like these needs a solid foundation, and I am proud to say this project started at the Douglas County Department of Corrections. I am also in awe of the resources and willingness that these participants bring forth in this effort—we could not do this without them.”