Proposed Changes to L.A. County's STD Program Sparks Criticism

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles County is considering a reorganization of its HIV and STD program that some critics think may weaken efforts to halt the spread of diseases in L.A.’s porn industry.

The LA Times has reported the proposed shakeup could sideline Dr. Peter Kerndt — a nationally respected disease expert — who has headed the STD program for L.A. County for more than a decade. 

Dr. Gary Richwald, who ran the STD program between 1989 and 2000 told the Times, "This appears to be a political move which could significantly interfere with disease control activities,"

The director of the county Department of Public Health, Dr. Jonathan Fielding, however said the reorganization is solely intended to bolster the program by increasing its efficiency and effectiveness. "What I hope it will do is give more bang for the buck."

Fielding did not comment on Kerndt but said the county has "been very clear that we're very concerned about the lack of adequate protection of performers in the adult industry."

He said, "I think we have a good STD program.”

Under Fielding’s plan, Kerndt’s STD program would be taken away from Dr. Robert Kim-Farley, who heads communicable disease control and handed over to Mario Perez who now runs the Office of AIDS Programs and Policy that distributes grant money to AIDS programs. Perez is not a physician.

One critic, Dr. George Ma, president of the Los Angeles County Medical Association objects to the plan and said, "There should be a doctor in charge of the department instead of a layperson.”

Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), told the Times that he suspects Fielding and county supervisors may not want to deal with the public health issues in porn because of the "ick factor."

Weinstein also believes Kerndt's zealous investigation of HIV outbreaks in porn has put him at odds with Fielding.

Although he believes condom use should be used in porn films, Fielding last year rejected the AHF’s demands made in a lawsuit that the county compel porn companies to require condoms during filming in L.A. County. He said he would not send health officers to raid porn film sets, a stand backed by Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.

The Times reported that Kerndt has continued to investigate HIV outbreaks in the industry including infected HIV performer Derrick Burts whose case triggered set shutdowns and has prompted continued review of the HIV threat.

Another critic of the proposed change and speaking as an indiviudal, Dr. Ronald Hattis, president of Beyond AIDS, a national advocacy group, and former Riverside County health officer said the reorganization "might detract from that competence and leadership."

"Sometimes the politics isn't very transparent, and you can't tell who is making the complaints, and who is pulling the strings," Hattis said.

Fielding's reorganization proposal must be approved by county Chief Executive Officer William T Fujioka.