CHELSEA — AIDS advocacy group Gay Men's Health Crisis marked the opening of its new HIV testing center in Chelsea on Tuesday with some sobering facts about the virus.
"Our presenence here, it was no accident — HIV rates in Chelsea have long been disproportionately high," said Marjorie Hill, the organization's CEO. "We wanted to make sure we continued our presence and connection to Chelsea."
Hill pointed to Health Department data, recently reported by DNAinfo, that showed Chelsea to have the highest HIV infection rate in the city. It also showed that the majority of those being infected in the neighborhood are men who have sex with men.
The GMHC Center for HIV Prevention at 224 W. 29th St. offers confidential HIV testing, which can give on-the-spot preliminary results, as well and an education and community center to support those who have the virus and also to encourage safe sex.
The organization is also partnering with Mom's Pharmacy to provide a full-service storefront where GMHC clients can get their medicine in a safe environment.
GMHC had been headquarted in Chelsea for decades, before moving to a new space in Hell's Kitchen in April. The HIV testing center has been operating for two months, but Tuesday's opening was the first time many members of the public and neighborhood could take a look.
The Health Department has its own confidential STD testing clinic nearby, at 303 Ninth Ave. GMHC's supporters and staff were quick to point out that their testing center was about providing a supportive, non-judgemental environment.
"Whatever your needs are, this is a place about healing," said Dr. Monica Sweeney, assistant commisioner of the Health Department's HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control program, at the opening of the new testing center.
The center offers patients condoms and pamphlets encouraging safe sex, including a "condom comebacks" wheel that gives patients responses to try if their partner is pressuring them not to use protection. But the central goal of the complex was to offer a safe haven to those in need of HIV testing.
"Testing is an important part of getting our arms around this epidemic," Sweeney said. "If you've not been tested, as far as I'm concerned, you're positive."