LOS ANGELES — With the sudden withdrawal of CET (Cutting Edge Test) this week — a year and a month after the withdrawal of TTS (Talent Testing Service) — the PASS system of adult industry performer testing has entered a period of uncertainty that its director and board members hope will result in an improved new status quo that would provide more options for talent health services.
XBIZ spoke yesterday to CET’s Dr. Peter Miao, PASS Executive Director Ian O’Brien, PASS board member Lance Hart, FSC CEO Michell LeBlanc and FSC Director of Public Affairs Mike Stabile about this week’s developments and what they could mean for performer testing now and in the future.
CET’s Dr. Miao’s on His Decision to Leave PASS
CET’s Dr. Peter Miao, a veteran health care provider with decades of experience in the adult industry, told XBIZ that his decision to withdraw from PASS — announced without warning to FSC or PASS on Monday via one tweet from the lab’s account — should not make a difference to performers who have been testing there.
Miao said CET was offering their own test-result portal, similar to the familiar PASS interface.
“Performers who tested at CET now have a way to go to the [new] CET system and look at results and share with producers and director and agents and so forth,” Miao told XBIZ. “Things are not that different. It’s not that different.”
“All we are confirming is that a certain person is available to work or not available to work, same as before,” he added.
Miao was reluctant to provide more information about the background of his sudden decision, refusing to answer questions about whether he had considered the withdrawal of CET would affect the long-standing PASS system, which he had supported since its inception in 2013 and even earlier during past incarnations.
“I don’t run the PASS system,” he curtly replied. “We are using the CET system and continue to take care of the community and they can continue to get results.”
Pressed to explain what had been the proverbial last straw that had damaged his long-standing relationship with FSC and PASS, Miao would only say that “We’ve been working with them for a long time, the FSC and other people that are behind the PASS system. And we don’t want to be saying it’s ok [when] we don’t agree with their decision that you can show a history of vaccination and you don’t need to do any COVID testing.”
“They made the decision on whether to test someone or not test that whether they were vaccinated or not,” Miao repeated.
XBIZ asked Dr. Miao what would happen going forward if a performer tests positive for HIV or another STI at his lab.
The ability to contact-trace and retest possibly affected performers, and the ability to call production halts and moratoriums, were two much-admired features of the PASS system that existed in virtually the same form for seven years between its inception/rebranding in 2013 and the TTS withdrawal in June 2020 — and the subject of several mainstream reports hailing the efficiency of adult industry testing.
Miao was vague about his specific plans for CET to do their own contact-tracing. “We are doing tracing and advising [possibly affected performers] whether to stay home and so forth,” he told XBIZ.
As for calling moratoriums and production halts, Miao said that wasn’t CET’s responsibility.
“FSC has been the agency that’s been calling the moratoriums,” Miao said, although given his withdrawal tweet, as of this week his willingness to communicate with the FSC or PASS seems dubious at best.
“We’ll still work with FSC if there’s a positive case for HIV,” he nevertheless added, “and we would work with them and help them decide if there’s a moratorium.”
PASS’ Ian O’Brien: ‘It’s Painful’
But the Executive Director of PASS, Ian O’Brien, seemed surprised by Dr. Miao’s attitude.
“It was very shocking to me,” O’Brien told XBIZ, although he added that the CET withdrawal had not seemed “out the realm of possibility” in his planning since becoming the first director of PASS after the program was incorporated as a separate non-profit from FSC on May 27.
Comparing this week’s CET withdrawal from PASS to last year’s TTS withdrawal, O’Brien expressed bafflement at Miao’s lack of communication
“Last year, during our conversations about whether to incorporate COVID testing into the Gold Star panel, TTS [and director Sixto PAcheco] were always willing to keep PASS informed at every step in the process. And to this day PASS and TTS remain in regular communication, in spite of them no longer uploading their data into the PASS system.”
“We were not granted that courtesy from CET,” O’Brien stressed.
Addressing Miao’s allegation that FSC and PASS had “made a decision that you can show a history of vaccination and you don’t need to do any COVID testing,” O’Brien said that was just a recommendation and that they were unaware that the CET director considered the advisory a dealbreaker.
On June 4, PASS released their updated guidelines stating that they were “no longer recommending COVID-19 testing for fully vaccinated individuals as part of its production guidelines” and that “producers should speak with an attorney about their specific risk and local regulations prior to changing policy.”
“We had announced that testing was not required for vaccinated individuals a month ago, and had been doing vaccination verification through the PASS database,” O’Brien told XBIZ. “We reached this decision after consulting public health experts, occupational health experts, employment lawyers, and consultation with the industry.”
“Look, PASS is a non-profit,” O’Brien continued. “It made no profit around vaccination or testing. Our decision was in accordance with other public health regulations. And we don’t wanna mandate overtesting, which is a resourcing/public health issue due to limited supplies. This was a decision weighed in what we thought was the best for the community’s health and the best way to keep folks protected. We said it was non-required.”
“TTS and CET were welcome to choose how they handle their own testing operation, but it sounds like they were upset we were not requiring people to continue paying for a COVID test,” he added.
“It comes down to the motivation of a for-profit clinic, versus and the motivation of a non-profit that makes nothing from people’s testing. It’s upsetting to me that I spend hours in consultation, critical thinking and ethical decision-making to come to the conclusion that this was the best course of action, and then to have someone withhold care not in consultation with anybody — it’s painful.”
As for Miao’s statement that CET would do their own contact tracing and still liaise with FSC to advise about the need for a potential moratorium, O’Brien remarked on the logistical complications brought about by the lab’s unilateral, uncommunicative way to withdraw from PASS.
O’Brien said they have been dealing with these issues with TTS since June 2020 and it definitely affected the speed and efficiency of proactive and preventive care. “Now, I may get a phone call letting me know what the situation is,” he explained. “PASS handles everything as it has always done. We work with the clinics together. We call a halt if needed. The problem here is that we are now completely reliant on their willingness to do that information. The communication is not as direct as it once was.”
One of the reasons behind the “green light/red light” PASS system were HIPAA concerns about health information privacy, and those issues have been complicated by the labs refusing to upload their data into the system.
“We’ve always been dependent on the performers’ willingness to disclose with the provider or PASS directly. But now we are fully reliant on CET and TTS to give us all the information. I can no longer look at PASS and see if they were clear on a time frame.”
“It’s all word of mouth and hopes and prayers for the time being — and hoping the for-profit labs do the right thing,” he added.
FSC’s Michelle LeBlanc: ‘It Shows Disrespect’
FSC’s CEO Michelle LeBlanc told XBIZ that Dr. Miao “must have been working on a new system and portal to replace PASS, but they never mentioned it to us.”
After TTS left PASS, LeBlanc said, CET missed a gold opportunity. “They could have leveraged their situation with us to take advantage of the captive market,” she added, “and we could have helped them get there.”
Last year, when TTS pulled out of PASS, Le Blanc explained, “it was following several discussions with us. Sixto [Pacheco] told us what was happening and why it was happening before it did. Because we were negotiating. He did come to us with what his issues were.”
XBIZ also spoke with TTS’s Pacheco yesterday but he was unaware of the CET withdrawal and could not comment.
For LeBlanc, the most disappointing part of the CET withdrawal “is the way they went about it.
“It shows a surprising amount of disrespect for our years-long relationship and also for the industry as a whole,” the FSC CEO said.
LeBlanc also does not understand Miao’s claim that that June 4 PASS advisory was the catalyst for his decision.
“It’s not a rule that we made — it’s a guideline,” she said. “We don’t mandate: COVID testing has always been up to the discretion of the producer and their set. The most we could do as an organization is set a guideline when the CDC or Cal-OSHA changed their recommendations. We have always said that we would keep our recommendations in line with government bodies.”
At this point in the COVID situation, LeBlanc said, to continue recommending continuous testing on vaccinated individuals does not seem necessary for public health reasons, agreeing with O’Brien’s statement that the key factor to consider are the conflicting motivations of for-profit clinics versus non-profits like FSC and PASS.
“Every time you have private companies, and people overseeing the testing, you are gonna have tension,” added FSC’s Director of Public Affairs Mike Stabile. “PASS sets guidelines, and business people don’t like being given guidelines.”
What would happen though if a performer goes to TTS or CET today and tests positive for an STI.? What happens next?
“I could confidently answer that question before TTS withdrew in June 2020, but as of today I have no idea about the specifics,” Stabile added. “In that situation we’re relying on what the testing lab is going to do. We hope that it will somehow be coordinated, in a way that’s similar to what PASS could do. But it’s not ideal to be relying exclusively on private companies and their decision-making.”
‘High Hopes’ for PASS Going Forward
As for the present and future of PASS beyond the TTS/CET era, Executive Director Ian O’Brian and board member (and noted producer, director and performer) Lance Hart are hopeful about the current crisis serving as a springboard for needed changes and improvements.
“We’ve always known this was a vulnerability of the system,” O’Brien told XBIZ. “We are going to need new models and ways of doing things. TTS and CET have been fixtures in the industry for so long, that there’s been little call for innovation — which was actually needed to serve a rapidly changing industry. This is a moment when PASS can seize the opportunity to do something novel and fill the immediate gap with something to better serve the industry.”
Yesterday, O’Brien invited the entire industry to a PASS Town Hall for Friday “to discuss the next steps for ensuring safety for performers on set.”
“PASS is more than just a database of work clearances,” O’Brien wrote. “For over a decade, we’ve established the guidelines for safe production and successfully prevented HIV transmission from occurring on PASS sets. As an organization, our commitment will always be to performers’ safety, not profit.”
“In the short-term, we will focus on the certification of additional labs, so that performers have increased options. But a central database is essential to facilitating production, and acting quickly in the case of a production hold. Private for-profit companies have no such obligation and it is imperative that we use this opportunity to establish a lasting framework for performer testing and safety.”
As it so happens, the CET withdrawal merely speeded up a modernization process that was already underway and which also included the split of FSC and PASS into two different non-profits.
“PASS’ mission is already really expanding beyond what the mission of FSC is, so it make sense to pursue that,” Michelle LeBlanc explained. “We have been looking towards the future of what PASS could be, and we have seen — with the onset of the pandemic, and us doing the Emergency Fund — that there are a lot of different ways that PASS can serve the community and be more of a resource, specifically for performer health. So it’s both a more narrow focus and a much more expansive visions with community organizing, health services, and advocating in a different way for performers than for the portion of the community that FSC usually advocates.”
Le Blanc said that FSC’s focus is “the health of the industry — the financial health, the robustness, which is inclusive of health and service. But PASS really focuses on that one area: performer health.”
“What Ian is envisioning,” she continued, “was definitely part of what we were talking about when having a future vision of PASS and we also knew there was a vulnerability in a reliance on for-profit labs. It was a risk we knew about. It was unfortunate that we didn’t have an advance warning on CET pulling out, but it was a known vulnerability.”
Before Dr. Miao’s announcement, LeBlanc said, “it was little early for the release of those plans, but everything is gonna be accelerated now.”
LeBlanc also praised the role of Lance Hart in galvanizing the performer community to think about and support alternatives to past and current testing options.
“Lance is such a vital part of the FSC and the PASS board,” said LeBlanc. “We’ve been very happy to have him joint the organization in this capacity.”
Upon the news of CET pulling out of pass, Hart tweeted on Monday, “We need our own testing centers and labs that are not run for profit. Calling necessary production holds loses $ for CET and TTS. That’s why they don’t do them.”
Hart also challenged performers to create a form of testing lab co-op. “This will cost less than $500,000 to build,” he tweeted. “I’ll throw down. Any 500 of you wanna split it?”
“This is something we had been discussing for a year, since TTS pulled out,” Hart told XBIZ, “but we didn’t want to rock the boat with CET. But now that they pulled out, we can start campaigning to get this done.”
“The sooner we get the money together, the faster a PASS-led alternative can be done,” he added. “All the problems everyone has with testing — we have a plan. We’ve been hacking away at it behind the scenes.”
“We have a good board with scientists and performers, and we are have been working on answers to a lot of issues people have always brought up about the old system,” he said.
“People think that creating a similar service to what TTS has in the testing centers everyone uses is harder than it actually is,” Hart noted. “It’s doable. It doesn’t take millions of dollars and years. We just need to raise initially $500,000 and we can start a nationwide non-profit that services at the level of the for-profit labs people use.”
“If 500 industry people are willing to pitch in a tax-deductible $1,000 donation, we could get it done,” he continued. “It would very nice if we didn’t have to ask big companies for that money. This is for the performers.”
Hart envisions improved, non-profit PASS-branded testing centers that would also serve as sex worker community hubs.
“It goes way beyond testing,” he told XBIZ. “We could offer information that is highly helpful to sex workers, which we already do when we meet up randomly at TTS! We can recommend all kinds of sex-work-friendly businesses. We can be inclusive of all ‘fluid-exchange performers,’ be it gay, straight, trans, non-binary. It would be a community service and an information hub.”
Also, Hart said, costs could be kept low and competitive on the testing, since the new sites would be non-profits.
“There are a lot of what-ifs that we’ve ben considering — I have a lot of high hopes for the future of PASS,” Hart said.
PASS’ chief caretaker concurred with Hart that CET’s withdrawal may have accelerated the momentum for the next step in the evolution of talent testing
“I care so much, and I’m motivated by this moment,” Ian O’Brien concluded. “If we can capitalize on this energy and do something transformative and good for PASS, I think it will be a big plus for the entire performer community.”