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Three staff from Inclusive Health Services pose for a photo.

Inclusive Health Services lands grant to provide LGBTQ primary care, prompts name change

Upstate’s Immune Health Services, which provides care to people living with or at risk for HIV, has a brand-new name that better reflects the department’s newly expanded offerings: Inclusive Health Services.

Inclusive Health Services was awarded a grant this spring that allowed the office to begin offering primary care services to the local LGBTQ community. Once word of the additional services spread on social media and by word-of-mouth, dozens of new clients started calling the office to make appointments, said Elizabeth Asiago Reddy, MD, director of IHS.

That influx of new patients—many of whom were outwardly grateful to receive medical care tailored to their needs—prompted a name change. Staff and patients agreed “Inclusive Health Services” was a better fit, Reddy said.

In addition to the department’s roots and ongoing efforts in HIV care, IHS is the only local clinic in a 13-county area offering primary care specifically for the LGBTQ community, Reddy said. Those services include gender affirming hormones and care; mental health services and referrals; substance use assessment; hepatitis C treatment; gynecological and pelvic exams; anal colposcopy; and additional support services.

The department’s services are much-needed as many providers are not educated on the unique needs of the LGBTQ community, and according to patients, aren’t offering adequate or appropriate care, Reddy said.

“Some of it really is discomfort when it comes to transgender care,” she said. “There are some providers who feel like they don’t know or don’t feel comfortable. I also think some of it is patients being scared. I’m sure there are some providers who would be fine and the patients themselves, they just don’t want to go through the process of trying to find out. ‘Will I be OK or will I not be OK? Will they ask me about this part of my life or will they not?’ ”

The IHS staff, which numbers about 30, has sought out a variety of new ways to better serve patients, said social worker Mattie Cerio, LMSW, who also co-manages the grant. Examples include using the “preferred name” field on patient medical records and staff wearing “my pronoun” buttons near their nametags. Another unique change has been to give patients in the waiting room a pager, much like the ones restaurants use. The pager system allows providers to more discreetly call patients in to a see a doctor.

The small changes add up and patients are grateful for the thorough care they are receiving, staff said.

“The team at IHS has worked tirelessly to support the needs of our community with comprehensive affirming and safe care. Everyone is loved and taken care of,” said IHS Nurse Manager Megan Brandt. “The patients send in stuff about how much they love it here. They tell the providers – thank you for all that you’ve done, we’ve needed this. It’s so nice to hear.”

IHS is a busy place. In the last year, the office has had more than 5,200 visits, with most focusing on HIV or Hepatitis C treatments, and for PrEP, pre-exposure prophylaxis to prevent HIV infection. Brandt said after expanding services to include LGBTQ patients the office estimated seeing about 250 new patients, or 20 per month, for the first year. Since the grant began May 1, however, the office has already taken on 65 new patients, which could put them on pace to see nearly 800 new patients in the next year.

The $130,000 grant is from the AIDS Institute, which is a division of the New York State Department of Public Health. The grant will fund some salary support, outreach, volunteer support and education. Cerio is offering educational opportunities within Upstate and throughout the community, including school districts where the information has been well received, she said.

“I think there remains an untapped need for high-quality primary care across the board,” Reddy said, “and for us to be able to provide primary care for members of our community who feel stigmatized in other health settings, whether because of HIV, their status in the LGBTQ community, a history of drug use, etc., the ability to offer them excellent, compassionate wraparound healthcare services is very rewarding.”


Caption: Inclusive Health Services staff are (seated at left) social worker Mattie Cerio, LMSW; Director Elizabeth Asiago Reddy, MD; and (standing) Nurse Manager Megan Brandt.