Justice Re-protocoled: Mishandled test results become a teachable moment

Our client, a 22-year-old woman, was tested for HIV as part of a routine health screening at a Philadelphia health clinic that is not affiliated with the AIDS Activities Coordinating Office of Philadelphia Department of Health (AACO).

In violation of state law, a clinic nurse called her at home with the positive test results. The nurse also failed to link her to appropriate health care and social services or give her information about transmission.

Fortunately, the young woman followed up on her own. She went online and found a clinic that is funded by AACO to get a confirmatory HIV test, links to care, and other valuable information.

At the AACO-funded test site, her test results, while still positive for HIV, were delivered to her with appropriate linkages to care and in a legally compliant way. She was also assigned a case manager, who advised her that her first set of test results were not delivered properly and that she should call the AIDS Law Project to complain.

The young woman called us unsure of how she wanted the matter resolved, but knew the services she got at the first clinic did not help her understand what the test results meant or where to go for treatment. She did not want to pursue a formal complaint, but wanted to be sure that the next person who tested positive for HIV at that clinic would receive their results with support and guidance.

We advised the young woman that Pennsylvania’s law on HIV testing, commonly known as Act 148, requires that all health care providers give positive results in person and offer linkages to health care and social services. The law, which was passed in 1992, was drafted to ensure that that people who test positive receive their results in a safe way and get an immediate referral to treatment and information about reducing the risk of transmission.

With her permission, we reached out to the health clinic to alert them to that they had mishandled the delivery of our client’s test results.
Since the clinic was not AACO-funded, they have not attended the trainings the AIDS Law Project provides to case managers and test counselors. Our training participants have reported that they felt better equipped to advise HIV-positive individuals with respect to employment, health coverage, and public benefits options.We reached out to the clinic and explained the requirements and purpose of Act 148. They responded favorably and implemented our recommendations regarding HIV testing policy and procedures. They even added compliance with the state HIV testing law to their quality assurance audits.

The AIDS Law Project pursues many paths to justice. Sometimes we litigate and sometimes we educate. In this instance, we were able to successfully educate and influence appropriate protocols for individuals newly diagnosed with HIV.