Parton cuts STI testing for students without symptoms, exposure

By Tony Sjodin and SJ O'Connor

Emmanuel Tamrat
Students in search of Peace of Mind screenings will now need to schedule them at off campus facilities like Planned Parenthood rather than visiting Parton Center for Health and Wellness.

Parton Center for Health and Wellness has temporarily cut its “Peace of Mind” sexually transmitted infections (STI) screening program, which previously allowed students to be screened for STIs without exhibiting symptoms. On-campus testing is now limited to students who have had a recent exposure or are exhibiting symptoms of an STI. Some students who have called to ask for Peace of Mind screenings have been unable to get tested and have felt shamed by Parton’s response to their request.

The Vermont Department of Health labs that typically process most of Middlebury’s tests have converted their capacity to Covid-19 testing and are not running STI testing, according to Director of Health Services Sandy Robinson. Parton can send tests to Porter Medical Center, but a shortage of testing supplies and high costs have led Parton to prioritize symptomatic testing over regular screenings.

Screening costs vary depending on a student’s health insurance. Common tests like gonorrhea and chlamydia cost $25 out-of-pocket if run through the VT Department of Health labs, but $222 if run through the Porter Hospital labs. The Gallagher Student Health Insurance provided through the college covers 90% of testing costs, but students on separate insurance or who do not want to use their parents’ insurance may see much higher costs.

Parton’s website recommends that students get Peace of Mind testing every six months if they have multiple partners during that time, yet they do not offer it themselves anymore. 

Several STIs — including HPV, chlamydia, gonorrhea and herpes — can be infectious in people not showing symptoms. In the past, Peace of Mind testing was available to catch such asymptomatic cases.  

Bethany* ’23.5 tried to get a preventative STI screening when she began seeing a new partner in the fall but was turned down because of limited testing supplies. 

“I didn’t end up getting tested at Parton. After the call, I gave up on being tested because I don’t have a car or any access to other health facilities. I got tested as soon as I got home and everything was fine, but it would have been better for my peace of mind to be tested earlier,” Bethany said.

Bethany said she would be happy to go back to Parton if testing was made available again, but the way her call was handled made her less comfortable than when she has been tested at her gynecologist in the past. 

“I felt that Parton addressed me in an accusatory manner, almost shaming me for having unprotected sex,” Bethany said.

When Avery* ’24 called Parton in late March for Peace of Mind STI testing, she was told Parton’s supply of STI tests was low due to a lack of funding and was denied a test. 

Asymptomatic testing is available to students at Planned Parenthood in Middlebury, where Avery went after being turned away at Parton. 

“No questions asked, [Planned Parenthood] offered to help me and set up an appointment. They even gave me a discount because I did not want to use my parents’ health insurance,” Avery said. 

Claire* ’23 was able to get tested after explaining to staff that she had been encouraged to get a follow-up test for an STI she had been treated for several months earlier. She had no symptoms at the time, but was able to schedule the follow-up and described feeling supported by the staff member at her appointment. Still, Claire said there were flaws in the system. 

“When you call to make an appointment, I honestly would rather not talk to the receptionist,” Claire said. “I had to talk to her about the context of my STI testing, and I would have rather done that virtually or through an appointment-making thing.” 

She also had to fill out an online questionnaire — unlike past times she has gotten tested at Parton — asking her to list all of the different types of sexual activity she had engaged in, how many partners, and how much of it was protected versus unprotected, without knowing who at Parton would have access to the information.

Claire said she felt more supported than she had at previous Peace of Mind screenings at Middlebury. 

“In past experiences, the people I’ve dealt with were a little more judgemental, or, when I was getting Peace of Mind testing, asked me why I needed it,” Claire said. 

Robinson said Parton and the Vermont Department of Health are concerned about the limited testing capacity, and that they look forward to returning to regular testing as soon as possible.

*The names in this article are pseudonyms used to protect the privacy of students interviewed for this article.