Wednesday, November 04, 2009

UCSF's Hysterical Gay Staph Crisis:

Accountability Needed 2-Years Later

(Clinton Fein standing up for science-based gay public health approaches in 2008, before the SF Board of Supervisors.)

There are lots of ways to slime gay men. One is to do at the ballot box, another way is through pseudo-science from a prestigious university. Let's look at a recent sliming of the gay community over an infection that knows no social construct such as sexual orientation.

Last week my friend and political artist Clinton Fein, who has the most amazing Wiki entry that barely scratches the surface of this man, asked me what happened to all the outlandish January 2008 claims by University of California at San Francisco researchers about a pending epidemic of gay staph infections and how it was about to spread to the "general population."

Massive global homo health hysteria was unleashed after the SF Chronicle sensationalized a questionable study by UCSF scientists, with this attention-grabbing headline on January 15, 2008, "S.F. gay community an epicenter for new strain of virulent staph."

Gay health leaders reacted with alarm, and thus was born another public health scare pathologizing gay men, and in San Francisco, of all the cities in the world that should know better than add more stigma to gay men and our health needs.

The target of many gays and our righteous anger was UCSF, the researchers and the public relations department, and the gay advocates who work there.

I'll let Clinton explain some of the history:

At the time, together with activists Michael Petrelis and the late Hank Wilson, we demanded that UCSF meet with us to help understand how they could have released such an ill-informed press release, and figure out what concrete and immediate steps they could take to ensure such a debacle never happened again.

The result of three independent activists demanding answers from UCSF in a face-to-face meeting, and who until then had only participated in the dialog by sending a representative to community meetings, resulted in some concrete action, and promises from UCSF.

Among those were the development of a database that would allow for easier access to accommodate interest in studies and results, even those not published, or terminated prior to conclusion, and the extent to which community relations and communications with the gay community could serve as an across-the-board template in managing other communities, particularly vulnerable populations, such as children, women or prisoners.
Much was promised to the SF gay community by UCSF p.r. folks at our meeting on their campus, and also by university officials at public forums organized by non-UCSF organizations, including coming back to the community after an internal investigation was conducted, and changes made. But that didn't happen, and Clinton has taken action, to get some important follow up from those responsible for the 2008 hysteria:

Today I sent a letter to UCSF to see what, if any, steps have been taken since our meeting. Specifically, I requested follow up with the status of the following:

1. The internal task force that was set up, its findings in the wake of the MRSA fiasco, and the solutions implemented as a result of those findings.

2. The extent to which easier access to the database containing studies/results that would enable communities that may be impacted negatively to proactively protect themselves, and the extent to which, if at all, UCSF could/would help in identifying such studies.

Almost two years later, UCSF has not taken the initiative to report back to the gay community they traumatized and stigmatized. UCSF has held no follow up meetings with the SF gay community, and the issue has basically gone away. This must and will change.

I'm thankful that Clinton Fein is leading the charge to force UCSF to produce its promised accountability over the gay MRSA epidemic that didn't happen. If UCSF folks, such as LGBT liaison Shane Snowdon and openly lesbian Vice Chancellor for communications Barbara French, want to truly rebuild their broken trust with the gay community, I suggest they respond to Clinton and his follow up concerns.


Ken Howard, LCSW said...

The politicization of gay men's public health issues is a legacy of the trauma of the AIDS crisis. From that time on, gay men's public health has been sullied by politics, cronyism, incompetence, mis-informaiton, mercenary motivations, and just plain incompetence that confuses science with hysteria, rumor, and defensiveness.
As a community, gay men need to confront any institution, organzation, or stakeholder who is either ignorant, incompetent, or self-serving. Gay men's public health is too important to be contaminated with these evils. This is true whether it's myth about HIV transmission, prevalance, rates, STD data, and other issues. Gay male activists who challenge the big institutions have to stop being seen as shrill whistle-blowers and start being seen as the legitimate "conscience" of oversight of the institutions we rely on for accurate data, accurate and science-based education, and overall public health leadership. UCSF needs to stop being evasive, defensive, or obfuscating of the issues, and take responsibility for their errors with a clear Plan of Corrective Action in order to regain any semblance of credibility and trust by the gay community or society at large.

Anonymous said...

Frankly, UCSF depoliticized what Mayor Newsom tried to conceal. The MRSA pandemic in the 94114 zip code is traceable substantially to a single commercial operation, in which steam, heat, moisture, and contact make it a Petri Dish for microbes, that no one had the guts to expose. It's the reverse of the kind of response we took in the 1980s -- conceal, hide, deny, and pretend. Anyone getting public health notices could not miss the connections; it was politically preferable to conceal it, lest someone rock a boat.

Many members of this commercial operation choose wisely not to participate in its Petri Dish environment, which is more a hot bed for MRSA than for hot men. Disease and public health COMES FIRST, as anyone who has chronic illness should certainly support. At least CPMC-DAVIES was well aware of the connections, but also told to keep a "lid on it." Why? So the hospitals can transfuse whole floors of populations with vancomycin to rid us of flesh-eating disease?