Going to the doctors for a flu shot is fairly routine, but getting tested for a sexually transmitted infection can be a bit more intimidating. In MSU and the Bozeman community there are organizations dedicated to keeping students and community members healthy in all regards. Two prominent organizations, Bridgercare and MSU’s Student Health Services are committed to providing students with comprehensive and accessible care for sexual health.
Bridgercare, located north of Main Street between Willson and Tracy streets, offers community members “excellent, affordable reproductive and sexual healthcare and education in a safe, supportive, empowering atmosphere,” as stated on their website.
Bridgercare, a non-profit organization partially funded under Title X, a 1970 federal act that provides individuals and their partners with family planning and preventative health services, has been serving south-central Montana since 1972.
Mari Dominguez, the executive director of Bridgercare, explained that “all of our services are on a sliding fee scale, which is based on the patient’s income. We can bill insurance, but even if someone doesn’t have insurance, or there are fees that insurance doesn’t want to pay, they are still prorated based on income.” Being a non-profit and supported by Title X, Bridgercare offers sexual health education and support at a reduced price for many patients. Assessed on their ability to pay, 74 percent of individuals who visit Bridgercare receive services at a reduced cost, and 36 percent receive free services. In 2015 alone, Bridgercare offered $416,170 in free medical services to those who visited their clinic. Dominguez stressed that no patient will be denied services due to inability to pay.
Some of the services that Bridgercare offers include sexually transmitted infection (STI) testing, infection treatment, birth control, pregnancy testing and options, cancer screening, and LGBTQ+ services. “We have taken extra efforts to educate and prepare ourselves to help those who have traditionally had difficulty accessing healthcare in the mainstream,” Dominguez said, which includes other medical and mental health services. Free condoms supplied by Bridgercare can be found around Bozeman at various businesses and events.
Bridgercare has three main focuses: family planning, health education and their standard of care. According to Bridgercare’s website, when it comes to family planning, they believe that, “Every child deserves to be wanted and loved and every parent deserves to be willing and ready to take on the awesome responsibility of raising a family.” For health education, Bridgercare believes that, “Every youth has a right to comprehensive sexual health education and comprehensive sexual health education needs to be age-appropriate, medically accurate, science-based, culturally competent, non-judgemental and inclusive of all sexual identities, orientations and gender expressions.”
Bridgercare is also committed to high-quality care and puts a strong emphasis on “compassionate care regardless of economic circumstances.” When explaining why an individual should be proactive with their sexual healthcare, Dominguez said, “There’s a lot of misinformation [about sexual health], and when someone is visiting with a health care professional one on one they can be better assured that they are getting the right information for their own situation.” She also stressed how meeting with a professional can help with mental health as well, saying, “people are always better after they have addressed their needs, instead of just worrying about things internally.”
Student Health Services
The Student Health Services center is another option for students seeking resources. It is located on the east wing of the SUB, across from Cobleigh Hall. Counseling and Psychological Services is located on the upper level of the building. Entirely funded by student fees and insurance policies, the center provides a remarkable array of health care services, including extensive sexual health options.
Director of Health Advancement and Assistant Director of Student Health Services Marci Torres works in the Office of Health Advancement on the second floor. “We encourage students to stay on top of their health, and that includes sexual health and getting tested for STIs,” Torres said. Student Health Services offers free STI screening for students who simply want to know their status. “STI testing, if it’s a screening, is free. If you don’t think you have something, but want to make sure you don’t, that’s called a screening,” Torres said. However, “If [a student] comes in with symptoms, that’s considered a diagnostic screening, and that you would be charged for.”
Torres noted that students are often concerned about patient confidentiality, but she clarified that student information is completely confidential. “The one thing that prevents students from coming in and accessing that free service for screening is fear of that information getting back to a parent,” Torres explained. “But again, since the screening is free, no information is going anywhere, and nothing gets shared with anybody but the patient themselves.” Even if a student paid for symptom-related diagnostic screening, and a charged became listed on student account, the charge would only be described as a fee to the Student Health Services clinic. Patient confidentiality is paramount.
Student Health Services, like Bridgercare, also offers services for LGBTQ+ people, with safe zone and ally-trained staff from front desk clerks to lab staff. “We want to make sure this is an open and inclusive space for everybody,” Torres said. In terms of specific services, the Student Health Center offers counseling and options for any students who either may be transitioning or interested in transitioning. Additionally, all clinicians at the center are trained in hormone replacement therapy.
For students who find themselves facing pregnancy, the center, alongside Counseling and Psychological Services, offers free, comprehensive consultation to a help a student make a decision that is right for them. Once a student makes a decision, the center helps to refer the student to the appropriate specialist outside the university’s provided care system.
Finally, the Office of Health Advancement works to make all these resources available and known to the public. Not just limited to sexual health, the office promotes “generalized well-being by educating on topics such as nutrition, physical activity, stress management as well as the use of alcohol,tobacco and other drugs.