Los Angeles County Health Officials Consider Regulations for Bathhouses, Sex Clubs
Los Angeles County public health officials have scheduled a meeting with the owners of area bathhouses and sex clubs to discuss options for strengthening HIV prevention efforts, the Los Angeles Times reports (Bernstein, Los Angeles Times, 3/23). The meeting is in response to a motion approved in February by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors that requires the county Department of Health Services and other workers within 90 days to recommend improvements for prevention programs and guidelines for how the county and cities can coordinate licensing and permit distribution for the clubs. The motion cited a study conducted in 2002 that found that 11% of men at two Los Angeles area bathhouses tested HIV-positive, compared with 5% of men who had been tested at a public clinic or community-based testing center (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 2/4). The county already has the power to inspect and shut down bathhouses. However, the specific rules, which were passed 16 years ago, only apply to two of the facilities currently in operation and inspections have been difficult, John Schunhoff, CEO of the county Office of Public Health Programs and Services, said.
A shutdown of the 11 known bathhouses and clubs is unlikely because research shows that patrons instead will seek partners at other venues, County Public Health Director Dr. Jonathan Fielding said. Officials instead plan to draft policies regulating the clubs with the help of club owners. While meeting with the owners, health officials will consider plans to impose rules on all types of MSM sex clubs, including requiring the clubs to offer condoms, on-site testing for sexually transmitted diseases and information on condom usage. The officials also plan to consider requiring the clubs to be licensed by the health department and comply with certain regulations or risk being closed. The health department must submit its proposal for updating bathhouse regulations by May 15, according to the Times (Los Angeles Times, 3/23).