Our Lady of the Lake ‘Opt Out’ HIV Testing Program Earns Catholic Health Association’s Highest Honor

The Catholic Health Association (CHA), a national group comprised of more than 600 hospitals and 1,600 long-term care and other health facilities in all 50 states, awarded Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center its Achievement Citation, the organization’s top annual honor. The OLOL team was awarded this recognition for its implementation of an innovative opt out HIV testing program. The announcement was made during the recent CHA annual meeting.

Each year, CHA's Achievement Citation recognizes an outstanding program or service that exemplifies the ministry's commitment to carry on Jesus' mission of compassion and healing. The Achievement Citation is given to a CHA-member organization that is the creator and lead sponsor or partner in an original, bold, innovative program that delivers measurable results for the community served.

Introduced by Our Lady of the Lake and now also adopted by other local healthcare organizations, the implementation of opt out HIV testing is a simple, stigma-reducing approach to testing for HIV that has helped dramatically lower the rate of transmission of HIV in the Capital Region over the past several years. In 2016, Baton Rouge reported the highest number of newly reported cases of AIDS in the United States. Today, Baton Rouge ranks number 10 in the nation.

Each patient between the ages of 13-65 who visits one of Our Lady of the Lake’s six emergency rooms for any ailment is informed by their triage nurse that free HIV and hepatitis testing is routinely done and they will be tested too, unless they request to opt out. This program ensures people receive treatment earlier and reduces the spread of this deadly disease. Social workers who are part of the program help patients with a positive result access HIV or AIDS treatment and apply for social services such as housing and food aid as needed.

“The implementation of opt-out testing is changing the game in regards to HIV and AIDs in Baton Rouge. Our Lady of the Lake has been a strong partner in this work to end the HIV epidemic in our community,” said Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome. “Knowing your HIV status is important for your health and others. We are thankful this resource is available and accessible to every resident who seeks care in Our Lady of the Lake Emergency Rooms.”

Data shows that most of those who are HIV positive in Louisiana are people of color who face

socioeconomic challenges which often limits their access to early diagnosis and treatment. Many of these individuals use emergency rooms as a safety net for medical care, which is why James Rhorer, MD, and others who helped establish the opt out program decided that emergency rooms would be the best place to initiate the HIV testing.

“This program has been an overwhelming success,” said Rhorer, OLOL emergency room physician and prinicpal investigator of the opt out HIV testing program. “The program greatly reduces the risk that individuals will infect others in the community by linking patients with HIV to treatment and social services. We help patients understand that HIV is a serious medical challenge, but it’s not a death sentence. We are grateful for this prestigious recognition from our friends at the Catholic Health Association – it’s a fulfilling achievement for every member of our team involved in this project.”

Opt out HIV testing is funded through several grants and various partners including Gilead Sciences, makers of some of the most widely used HIV drugs, the Louisiana Department of Health, and the City of Baton Rouge.