Health Center News, Social Determinants of Health, Uncategorized

What Makes a Health Center Clinic Welcoming for LGBTQIA+ Patients?

Physician Assistant with patient

Walk into a welcoming Community Health Center, and this is what you’d experience:

Clinic environment: The clinic is clean, with warm and friendly staff at the registration desk. When you look a bit closer, you’ll notice a non-discrimination statement on the wall. Among the display brochures, are brochures about a variety of LGBTQIA+ concerns. For example, one about HIV prevention and PrEP, and another about Behavioral Health Services for aging LGBTQIA+ patients. The restrooms have more private stalls, without gaps around the doors, floor, and ceiling. They are all gender-inclusive. You may spot a poster from a nonprofit organization that supports LGBTQIA+ issues.

Inclusive screening questions: As expected, when you check in, the registration desk will ask you to complete a range of health-history questions. You recognize slight differences in the way questions are asked. For example, rather than asking about your “wife” or “husband” – it may ask about a “spouse” or “partner”. These slight changes can make a big difference for patients who often feel stigmatized or demoralized by the words they read. You understand your answers will help your doctor have a more informed and conscientious conversation with you (without stereotypes or judgments), so you don’t mind filling them out.

The questions you answer include a few about social determinants of health, like your housing situation, safety, and access to fresh food. You feel compelled to honestly answer questions about your mental well-being and your substance-use patterns. You have a feeling you won’t be judged for these answers either. Finally, you see a series of questions about your sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI). The care you receive may depend on these answers. Because the questionnaire is discreet, as is the way your answers are seamlessly uploaded into your medical records, your provider has a less awkward and more supportive conversation with you about your long-term health.  

“When I work with marginalized people, I know I’m offering them a place to go for care when they have nowhere else to go. They are often ridiculed, rejected, and stigmatized. When we can show them respect, tend to their needs, and improve their quality of life, we all feel fulfilled. It is one of the most rewarding aspects of my career.”

Deb Dunn, Chase Brexton

Attentive and respectful staff: The best part about your health clinic experience relates to the people you meet. From the minute you walk in the door to the time you sit down with your health care team, you feel respected, supported, and appreciated. You find yourself talking about concerns you wish you’d discussed with health care professionals long ago! You know you’re in good hands and you welcome the self-care tips you receive. 

This entire experience makes you check five stars, the highest rating, in the patient satisfaction survey you get after your appointment. You’ll definitely be going back – and you promise yourself you’ll follow through and take excellent care of yourself going forward, with a team of people who understand you.

Fenway Health and Chase Brexton among many health centers leading the way

This experience of a welcoming and inclusive health care provider isn’t unusual. It’s happening at health centers all over the country.

Fenway Health created the National LGBTQIA+ Health Education Center to help health centers and look-alikes, PCAs and HCCNs offer this type of inclusive health center experience. Visit their resources page to view current activities.

At Chase Brexton Health Center, their tagline alone tells you what you need to know: “Because everyone’s health matters.”

Culturally competent programs like these are critical at Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) because, generally, there aren’t many trained providers who can address the specific set of mental health, preventive and medical care services for LGBTQIA+ people. Yet, health centers are the treatment location of choice for many people seeking treatment to change or fighting to prevent HIV and AIDS, so learning from experienced centers like Chase Brexton and Fenway Health is a step in the right direction.

As Deb Dunn, Physician Assistant from Chase Brexton says: “When I work with marginalized people, I know I’m offering them a place to go for care when they have nowhere else to go. They are often ridiculed, rejected, and stigmatized. When we can show them respect, tend to their needs, and improve their quality of life, we all feel fulfilled. It is one of the most rewarding aspects of my career.”

NACHC Resource

Find more resources about improving care for LGBTQ+ patients in our toolkit: Transforming Primary Care for LGBTQ People.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo courtesy of Chase Brexton.