Empath Partners in Care announces new sexual health center

ABOVE: Concept art for EPIC’s sexual health center. Photo courtesy EPIC.

ST. PETERSBURG | Empath Partners in Care (EPIC) announced March 18 that the nonprofit will open a new sexual health center in early summer, a freestanding facility specializing in sexually transmitted infection (STI) testing and treatment.

EPIC is a member of Empath Health’s network of care, which has supported Tampa Bay patients since 1977. It formed after the 2016 merger of the AIDS Service Association of Pinellas (ASAP) and the Tampa-based Francis House.

Its latest expansion will allow the organization to serve an estimated 10,000 clients per year from an 1,800-square-foot, renovated home located at 300 49th St. S. in St. Petersburg. Empath Health President Rafael Sciullo says the center is “a natural progression of services that allows us to more fully impact the entire spectrum of an individual’s sexual health needs.”

Those services will also be mirrored at EPIC’s Tampa campus, the traditional Francis House. Officials promise that each facility will offer “an array of medical, educational, support and resources to empower people to achieve better sexual health and make informed decisions about their sexual well-being.”

The St. Petersburg location has a projected opening of May, while the Tampa expansion has a Fall 2021 target. “This has been in the works for years,” EPIC Executive Director Joy Winheim explains.

“In looking at how to stay relevant over the next three, five and seven years, this seemed like the next logical step,” she continues. “We’re dealing with prevention all the time, so this is just another way for us to prevent new HIV infections – holistically taking care of everyone’s sexual health and wellness makes sense to us.”

In addition to STI testing and treatment, the facilities will offer pregnancy testing and referrals, birth control and prophylactics, and Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) and Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP). Education services and workshops on safer sex and LGBTQ health will also be offered.

To make that possible, the space will be transformed to include exam rooms with lab capabilities. It will also boast private meeting spaces and welcome specialized medical staff to confidentially serve anyone in need.

“This is really an exciting time for us,” Winheim explains. “This is the first new line of business and these are the first new services that we have offered in a really long time.”

Concept art of the space can be seen below, courtesy of EPIC:

Fundraising efforts to make EPIC’s vision a reality have already begun. Half of the nonprofit’s $800,000 goal has been met by individuals and organizations, with partnership and gifting opportunities including exclusive naming rights still available from each.

“We are 50% to our goal, so basically our construction loan is covered,” Winheim says. “Now we are raising money so that we can continue through the first year of operations. We want to be able to offer as many free services as we can, and we need to raise money to do that.”

Community support thus far includes contributions from organizations like the Raymond James Foundation and private donations from EPIC’s website. Winheim says the nonprofit is extremely grateful.

“The reaction has been fantastic,” she explains. “We’re very, very thankful to those folks who really believe in our mission and support what EPIC is doing. We’ve put a lot of work behind the scenes into figuring out just exactly what we’re going to offer and how we’re going to offer it … if anyone else wants to get on board, we are happy to arrange tours and talk more in-depth about what we’ll be doing.”

More than anything, Winheim is excited about impacting the community EPIC serves in new ways.

“This is going to be a very sex positive place,” she concludes. “We want you to come as you are – everybody will be welcome, free of judgment. We don’t care what you’re doing out there, we just want you to do it safely. We’re here for the community.”

For more information about EPIC and to donate to its sexual health center campaign, visit MyEPIC.org/Vision. You can also learn more about naming opportunities and multi-year pledges by calling Suncoast Hospice Foundation Director of Philanthropy Karen Van De Putte at (727) 523-3422 or emailing KarenVanDePutte@EmpathHealth.org.

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