New LGBT Health Center to Open in Fall

By Jason A. Michael

DETROIT – Health Emergency Lifeline Programs (HELP) has announced they are developing a community-based health center with a dedicated focus on meeting the needs of the LGBT community in Metropolitan Detroit. The new 24,000-square-foot facility, to be called the Corktown Health Center, is scheduled to open in September.

“Corktown Health Center will implement a medical home model integrating primary care, behavioral health and a selection of medical specialties,” said Teresa Roscoe, HELP’s executive director. “Supportive services designed to enhance health and well-being, reduce barriers to care and promote positive outcomes will be integral to the center’s holistic approach.”

Anthony Williams, HELP’s chairman of the board, agreed.

“I think what’s going to make it a little different from other health centers will be the support services component,” he said. “HELP has been around for some time, and one of the things we’re really good at is support services for the HIV/AIDS community. We think that kind of model of care, with the clinical component, will make the difference in the quality of services you see and in the outcomes associated with improved health in the LGBT community.”

Williams said the center will be the first of its kind in Michigan.

“It will be very similar to models in Fenway in Boston and Howard Brown in Chicago,” he added.

So why does the LGBT community need its own health center? The answer to that question can be found in a recent survey conducted by the organization Lambda Legal. Out of more than 5,000 respondents, over half of the LGB respondents and over 70 percent of the transgender respondents reported experiences of discrimination in healthcare. A HELP preliminary local assessment found that even more prevalent than blatant discrimination is the experience of provider discomfort, insensitivity, lack of knowledge and unconscious bias.

“I think it’s a lack of knowledge and preparation from providers sometimes (that causes the problem),” said Roscoe. “A person goes in to see a gynecologist and the question primarily is, ‘What are you doing for birth control?’ And if you’re a lesbian woman and that’s the question that is asked, that cannot necessarily be embracing to your experiences. What are your needs as a patient when coming to me? Because it’s making a presumption as a person goes in. It doesn’t mean that the provider is bad or intending to be discriminatory or intending to cause any discomfort to that patient. But that intent doesn’t have to be there for that person to be uncomfortable or feel that they have to out themselves to their provider who they don’t necessarily feel is embracing of that.”

HELP is currently trying to raise $526,000 to open the health center.

“I don’t think it’s much of a hard sell,” Roscoe said. “I think people recognize the need. We’re in the midst right now of a development campaign and fundraising. So if anyone is interested in donating or participating in that way, they’re very welcome to provide their support. But most people that we’re talking to are really excited about the idea. They see the need and the value in doing this here in Detroit and dollars are starting to come in.”

The goal is to build a model that is basically self-supporting.

“It’s anticipated it will be 60-65 percent kind of revenue generating, and the other percentage will be associated with grants and so forth,” said Williams. “When you have that kind of model, people are more apt to contribute because they know it’s a long term sustainable model. So overall we don’t think we’re going to have a problem with that piece of it.”

Though the center is not scheduled to open until September, HELP has already started operating a comprehensive HIV/AIDS clinic at their current location. Thanks to a partnership with St. John Hospital, HELP has a doctor and a nurse coming to the clinic three days a week. While currently they have three exam rooms, six more will be added to the expanded clinic for a total of nine. The new fully-staffed clinic will be open seven days a week.

While much is already planned for the new health center, much is still to be decided.

“We’re having two community forums which are really open discussions that will help us gather information and continue to shape the vision and how we’ll structure services,” Roscoe said. “We have a lot of things already in mind, but we’re wanting to make sure we’re on the right track.”

The first forum will take place from 4 to 6 p.m. on Wednesday, March 9 at Hospice of Michigan, which is located at 400 Mack Ave., Detroit. The second will take place from 10 a.m. until noon on Saturday, March 10 at Affirmations in Ferndale.