SMOC Family Planning, Minnesota West invite students to pee for pizza

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Apr. 26—WORTHINGTON — Jeanne Poppe, southern Minnesota outreach director for Sen. Tina Smith's office, visited the Worthington campus of Minnesota West Community and Technical College last week for a rather unique collaborative event — Pee for Pizza.

Coordinated by the local office of SMOC Family Planning and Minnesota West, the event enticed students to get tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and get rewarded with free pizza. The urine samples collected were sent to a lab for testing for infections, including chlamydia and gonorrhea. April is STI Awareness Month.

Terri Janssen, health services director for SMOC Family Planning and STD Clinics, said Pee for Pizza is not a new idea — these events take place on college campuses across the U.S. However, the collaboration between a family planning clinic and a community college caught the eye of Minnesota's junior senator. Poppe said Smith is hoping that with this type of collaboration taking place in one of the most conservative areas of Minnesota, perhaps it can be replicated throughout the state.

Roxanne Hayenga, adviser for the Community Health Worker program at Minnesota West, said the goal was to encourage at least 10 students to be tested; they ended up with 22 samples to submit to Quest Labs during the 2-hour event April 16. Test results were provided directly to the students, and SMOC Family Planning's credentialed provider returned to the Worthington campus Thursday for the agency's first — and only — clinic day this semester.

Janssen said if any students test positive for STIs, SMOC Family Planning will connect them with a physician if they are in need of treatment.

"We have our own pharmacy," Janssen said. "We can help if they don't have insurance — most students do qualify. We want to make it affordable and reasonable, then we know they're safe and free of infection."

In addition to providing testing at the event, SMOC distributed goodie bags that included condoms, sunglasses, business cards and a piece of candy. Students were also advised of the Family Planning site in downtown Worthington, where condoms are available for free outside the clinic door.

The agency has provided the campus with free condoms for the past several months, which are available to students at the campus food pantry.

Hayenga commended SMOC Family Planning on conducting the Pee for Pizza event on campus, noting it destigmatizes discussion about sex and educates students on the prevalence of STIS and what they need to do to be safe.

"You don't know if someone was peeing (in a cup) because they wanted to get tested for STIs or if they wanted lunch," she said. "One of the students said, 'You get free pizza? I'm in!'"

The student then proceeded to group chat with his friends and several of them showed up from the Bluejay Villas.

A majority of the students who were tested during the event were males. Janssen said she heard several students say they were thankful for the resources of SMOC Family Planning in the community.

Janssen said plans are to incorporate more educational activities at the campus next school year, and the on-campus clinic is slated to be open two half-days per month.

Hayenga said the April 16 clinic, from the process to its receptiveness by students, will help them plan for the future.

"We were very pleased with the event," added Janssen.

Nobles County has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in Minnesota. Offering college students access to free condoms, education and free or greatly reduced care for sexual health are some of the ways SMOC Family Planning can make an impact.

Janssen said the services the agency provides really need to reach students at a younger age — starting in middle school.

"Anytime you have teen pregnancies, you have unprotected sex happening," Janssen said. "People who come in for birth control don't want condoms, but unless they're in a monogamous relationship, birth control isn't going to protect them from STDs."

According to the most recent data released on sexually transmitted diseases by the Minnesota Department of Health, nearly 1,600 cases of chlamydia were reported in Greater Minnesota between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30, 2023. Rates were highest among adults aged 20 to 24 (approximately 6,000 cases statewide), followed by teens ages 15 to 19 (4,090 cases statewide).

Meanwhile, there were 939 cases of gonorrhea reported in Greater Minnesota during the same time period. The highest number of cases — 1,317 — were among adults aged 20 to 24, followed by 1,006 cases among adults aged 25 to 29.

Among southwest Minnesota counties, Nobles County had the highest rates of both chlamydia and gonorrhea reported during the first three quarters of 2023. According to MDH, there were 92 reported cases of chlamydia and 10 cases of gonorrhea in the nine-month period. Pipestone County reported 22 cases of chlamydia and five cases of gonorrhea; Jackson County had 20 cases of chlamydia; Murray County reported 12 cases of chlamydia and Cottonwood County reported 12 cases of chlamydia and one case of gonorrhea.

"Overall we are seeing increased numbers," Janssen said, noting a syphilis epidemic now hitting Duluth and the Twin Cities.

Hayenga said if events like Pee for Pizza can help to reduce the stigma of STIs, perhaps the infection rates can be reduced as well.

"Most people have sex in their life; some people don't make the best choices," she said. "We're trying to reduce harm."

"When it's a public health problem and it's more and more prevalent, then we have to do our part too," added Janssen.

Katie Kuehl, a registered nurse and clinic coordinator for SMOC Family Planning's Marshall office, said she helped lead a Pee for Pizza event at Southwest Minnesota State University during her orientation with the agency in late 2015. While it was a success, the partnership between SMOC and SMSU fell apart and SMOC has not hosted an event on the Marshall campus since.

"With the recent partnership with Minnesota West, I felt it would be a great way to get the college students engaged with SMOC and to learn more about our services," shared Kuehl. "The students that we saw were very receptive to our services and I feel that our clientele will only grow with word of mouth from students that we are present on campus and can provide these services to them free to low cost."

Hayenga said she'd like to have SMOC lead a Pee for Pizza event on every Minnesota West campus this fall. Receptivity and participation in those events may help the college determine where to offer clinic space for SMOC Family Planning.

With the clinic site on the Worthington campus finally approved in early April, plans are to begin hosting more educational events and clinic days on campus this fall. The goal for the clinic — located on the second floor of the campus' administration building — is to be open two half-days per month during the school year.

Funding for the SMOC Family Planning satellite clinic and programming at Minnesota West comes from a student health fee the college recently implemented.

"This partnership grew out of what we can do for the students so they see value in that fee they're paying," Hayenga said.

Other uses for the dollars include funding a mental health position on the Worthington campus and providing mental health training and Naloxone training campus-wide.

"We could not have done this without Minnesota West's involvement," added Janssen.