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At DMV office, HIV testing while you wait

WASHINGTON -- At one Department of Motor Vehicles office in the nation's capital, motorists can get a driver's license, temporary tags and something wholly unrelated to the road: a free HIV test.

In a city with one of the highest percentages of residents living with HIV or AIDS, health officials have spent the past year test-driving the HIV screening program.

Since the program began last fall, more than 5,000 people have been tested at the DMV site getting results while they wait.

Now, they're expanding the program, offering testing for the first time at an office where Washington residents register for food stamps, Medicaid and other government assistance. On Monday, the first day of the program, 60 people got tested, officials said. As an incentive, they're being offered a $5 gift card to a local grocery store.

"You have to meet people where they are," said Sheila Brockington, who oversees HIV testing at the DMV office in southeast Washington, the only one of the city's three DMV service centers where it is offered. "You're waiting anyway. You might as well."

The testing project is run by a nonprofit group, Family and Medical Counseling Service Inc., which uses an office in the DMV site. To ensure confidentiality, those tested receive results in the private office, out of earshot of people going about their usual DMV business. The nonprofit got a $250,000 grant to do the testing and secured the support of the city's Health Department and the DMV. Now a second, similar grant is funding expansion.

Not everyone was sold on the idea when it was proposed by the head of the Family and Medical Counseling Service, Angela Wood said. She came up with the idea after sitting at a DMV office herself. Initially, it was doubted many people would test, but 25 to 35 people are being tested every day at the DMV location. Anyone who agrees gets $7 off their DMV services.