Central Illinois Friends Opens Second Location In Normal
Bloomington-Normal area residents who have trouble accessing sexual health care have a new option.
Central Illinois Friends is partnering with the Community Health Care Clinic (CHCC) and Carle Health to set up a second location in CHCC’s Normal building on Fridays and Saturdays.
The Peoria-based nonprofit offers free HIV and sexually transmitted infection (STI) testing, HIV prevention medication and HPV vaccines, as well as health counseling and referral services.
Deric Kimler, executive director of Central Illinois Friends, said the organization covers a 15-county area. He said they usually use mobile units to reach people in Bloomington-Normal and other communities.
“When COVID happened, the state pulled our access to those mobile units away, in favor of getting vaccinations out,” Kimler said. “During that time, we've also launched new programs, which include completely free HPV vaccinations, as well as free PrEP, which is a daily pill that prevents HIV.”
Kimler said without the mobile units, they haven’t been able to do as much outreach as they’d like to. Central Illinois Friends purchased tents to provide testing and is starting to travel more as things open up, he said. They’ve also been able to bring patients to Peoria to receive care.
"We have a some patients in the Bloomington-Normal area that we were actually going and picking up that didn't have access to services."Deric Kimler, executive director of Central Illinois Friends
“We have a some patients in the Bloomington-Normal area that we were actually going and picking up that didn't have access to services, because they speak Spanish and English is not their first language, or because they just feel more comfortable having actual Hispanic staff and or having representation of the trans community on our staff that they felt more comfortable seeking our services,” Kimler said.
Central Illinois Friends primarily serves populations with barriers to health care: LGBTQIA+ individuals, non-citizens, low-income households, people suffering from substance use disorder, etc. But Kimler said all are welcome.
“There is an abundance of individuals that need these services. Anyone at risk of HIV—anyone that is sexually active, period, needs to be tested," Kimler said. "These services are for anybody who is afraid of someone on their insurance knowing that they're getting services with us ... Someone who is an adolescent that doesn't want mom and dad knowing that they're sexually active for some odd reason."
Others may be uninsured or can’t make doctor’s appointments during regular business hours, he said. Free services are available to everyone, no questions asked.
Kimler said the CHCC clinic will help Central Illinois Friends reach its goal of getting to zero new HIV diagnoses, lowering STI rates and creating a safe space for LGTBQIA+ people and other marginalized communities.
“We're fighting against a system that is working against people living with HIV and working against people who want to get prevention, because you go to a clinic and you get shamed for being sexually active," Kimler said. "You don't feel comfortable talking to your doctor about the types of sex you have, and your doctor doesn't feel comfortable talking to you about it either."
“If you don't have any education, including in the school systems, about sexual health, you know nothing about how to protect yourself," he said.
Starting this week, Central Illinois Friends will be open in CHCC from 1-6 p.m. on alternating Fridays and all-day Saturdays.
“They are allowing us to open up in their space to run as our normal clinic, if you would come to Peoria. Nothing's different,” Kimler said. “Then on that Saturday night, when we're closing our doors, we tear everything back down and we put it away. When (CHCC staff) come back on Monday, it's like we never existed.”
Kimler said Central Illinois Friend’s Normal clinic will be run by medical director Dr. Adam Houghton and nurse practitioner Susan Carl, who both practice medicine in Bloomington-Normal.
To schedule an appointment, contact Central Illinois Friends at (309)671-2144 or firstname.lastname@example.org.