CHICAGO (CBS) — Howard Brown Health announced Monday that it is expanding medical care for sexual assault survivors.

The health care organization said it is offering comprehensive medical treatment and follow-up services at its clinics on the city’s North and South sides – as a safe and low-cost alternative to going to the emergency room.

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The expansion began Monday as part of Howard Brown’s In Power Department. The department is working with rape crisis centers Resilience and Mujeres Latinas en Acción as it provides access to medical forensic exams and evidence collection for sexual assault survivors that previously required a visit to a hospital.

Howard Brown emphasized how important such a move is for the LGBTQ community.

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“As an affirming place for the LGBTQ community, Howard Brown’s ability to provide expanded access to medical forensic exams could be the difference between a queer or trans person making the choice to seek care or deal with a traumatic event on their own,” Dr. Paige Baker-Braxton, Director of In Power, said in a news release. “We’re thrilled to begin providing this critical service to any person in need of care following a sexual assault, a goal of In Power and Howard Brown’s since the program’s inception. In Power has witnessed a spike in utilization since March 2020 when the pandemic began, and now we can do even more for survivors.”

Howard Brown last year joined the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office, Resilience, and the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Assault in a push to amend the Sexual Assault Treatment Act so medical forensic exams for sexual assault could be provided in settings other than hospitals, particularly in response to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in accessing medical treatment in ERs.

In June 2020, Gov. JB Pritzker signed SB 577, an amendment to the Sexual Assault Survivors Emergency Treatment Act that allowed federally-qualified health centers such as Howard Brown to perform such exams during a governor-declared state of emergency and for 90 days afterward – a period that currently runs until June 2021.

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In Power also expanded its capacity to support sexual assault survivors – with medical services, medical and legal advocacy, and behavioral health services. The services the clinic provides include free and confidential STI testing and treatment, short-terming case management, access to orders of protection, and intimate partner violence counseling, among others. The services are available in Uptown and Englewood.

CBS 2 Chicago Staff