One man reports being hounded by county even after testing negative
For one Dallas man, a negative HIV test wouldn’t stop Dallas County from contacting him.
“At the end of May, I got a call from the county health department saying I may have been exposed to HIV,” said John (he asked that his real name not be used). The county health official told him someone who tested positive listed him as a contact. John said he was tested in April at Out of the Closet, the new thrift store on Cedar Springs Road run by AIDS Healthcare Foundation. Rapid HIV testing is available at the store. The test results came back as negative.
When the county official called again, news that the test was negative was not enough — he insisted John come in for another test. John refused.
John’s experience is indicative of a problem at the Dallas County Health Department, which came under fire this week when the state alleged the county was falsifying records.
When someone tests positive for HIV or syphilis, the health department is supposed to find any sexual contacts to let them know they are at risk. Dallas Health and Human Services is under investigation for falsely contacting people about being exposed to syphilis and HIV.
HHS employees took names of people who tested negative and listed them as sexual contacts of people who tested positive to make it look like Dallas was doing a better job of tracing contacts.
A letter from the Texas Department of State Health Services Office of the Inspector General to Dallas HHS director Zach Thompson said Dallas is in breach of the HIV/STD Public Health Follow-up contract. Thompson would not comment.
Bret Camp, AHF Texas regional director, said when they test at his clinics or at Out of the Closet, they encourage someone with a positive test to bring in partners for testing.
Camp said HIV testing is confidential, but not anonymous. An anonymous test would allow someone to get results without giving a name; confidential testing does permit reporting the name to the county if the test is positive. That’s required of all doctors and clinics in Texas that test for STDs.
Camp said syphilis must be reported to the county within one business day; HIV, within a week.
County officials will contact anyone with positive results to ask for partners’ names, addresses and phone numbers, then they contact those partners. That’s required by the state.
When John was contacted by the county, he told the official he had already been tested and was negative. The county insisted he prove he was negative or come to the county clinic for another test.
John refused since he had only one partner over the previous year, who also tested negative.
He wasn’t sure why his name would have been on a county list. Out of the Closet didn’t report his name to the county because they only report positive results.
“Any friend of yours could have come by and given us your name,” John said the county official told him.
Camp said HIV tests used to require a sample to be sent to a lab and a written lab result was returned. “Technology has advanced beyond the protocols,” Camp said.
With a rapid test done on site, there’s no written result, so John had nothing to send to Dallas County to prove his status. Instead, Dallas County continues to harass John, telling him he must come in for a test.
Kirk Myers, CEO of Abounding Prosperity, said “Obviously if that’s occurred, it’s not acceptable. It undermines the county’s credibility with the community.”
The letter from DSHS placed Dallas County’s Health Department on probation for six months and reduced the contract for the year by $118,137, the amount of the salaries of two employees accused of falsifying records. One of those employees has already resigned.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 13, 2014.