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API Wellness opens Castro LGBT health clinic

by Matthew S. Bajko

Lance Toma, right, chief executive officer of the Asian<br>and Pacific Islander Wellness Center, welcomes visitors to the new clinic in<br>the renovated LGBT Community Center. Also on hand were Supervisor Jeff Sheehy,<br>left, and Dr. Tri Do, API Wellness' chief medical officer. Photo: Rick<br>Gerharter
Lance Toma, right, chief executive officer of the Asian
and Pacific Islander Wellness Center, welcomes visitors to the new clinic in
the renovated LGBT Community Center. Also on hand were Supervisor Jeff Sheehy,
left, and Dr. Tri Do, API Wellness' chief medical officer. Photo: Rick

With the opening of its new primary care clinic in the LGBT Community Center, the Asian and Pacific Islander Wellness Center is touting it as the first "health home" for the entire LGBT community in San Francisco's gay Castro district.

There is the San Francisco AIDS Foundation's Strut health and wellness center in the heart of the Castro, but it only provides services to gay, bisexual, or transgender men. The AIDS Healthcare Foundation also operates a clinic in the Castro, but it is only open two days and focuses mainly on HIV medical care as well as HIV prevention.

A block away from the LGBT center is Lyon-Martin Health Services. But it is outside the boundary of the Castro district and only sees women, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender, and genderqueer people, according to its website.

"Ironically, the Castro has never had a health home for the LGBTQ community and their families. So API Wellness Center is here to fix that," said Lance Toma, the chief executive officer of API Wellness, at an opening ceremony for the new clinic Sunday, April 9. "This is the first health home created by and for the LGBTQ community."

The agency is comparing its clinic, which opened to patients Monday, April 10 on the fourth floor of the LGBT center, with its counterparts in other major cities like Howard Brown Health (Chicago), Callen-Lorde (New York City), Los Angeles LGBT Center (LA), Mazzoni Center (Philadelphia), and Fenway Health (Boston).

"Our health needs have gone unaddressed far too long," said Dr. Tri Do, chief medical officer of API Wellness.

The new health center offers comprehensive primary medical care, prenatal care, and full sexual health services including PrEP and PEP provision. It will also provide a range of health care services for transgender patients. Women will be able to access a host of family planning services, from birth control to the morning after pill.

Through API Wellness Center's partnership with the University of San Francisco's School of Nursing and Health Professions, the clinic is also providing mental health services for clients. It plans to add group counseling sessions as the need arises.

The clinic accepts private medical insurance, such as Anthem and Aetna, as well as the SF Health Plan, Medi-Cal, and Medicare. It is pricing its services on a sliding scale, though will not turn anyone away if they cannot pay.

For those buying health insurance through Covered California, the state health exchange formed by the federal Affordable Care Act, they can choose the API Wellness clinic as their primary care provider.

"We know LGBTQ people face significant health disparities and are suffering at a higher rate relative to our straight counterparts. We are proud to be on the ground, doing this work," said Do, who trained at Fenway Health.

As it ramps up seeing patients, the API Wellness clinic will slowly increase its days of operation. It is beginning with Mondays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and will also be open Tuesdays as of April 25. The clinic will remain closed on Wednesdays but later this spring will open on Thursdays and Fridays.

"We want to start off slow," said Carlos Bermudez, a nurse practitioner and director of nursing for both API Wellness' clinic in the center as well as its clinic in its Polk Street building.

The new clinic has a reception and waiting area, three exam rooms, a lab for blood work, counseling rooms, and a back area for staff.

"It is going to be a great center for LGBT people and for people of color to get primary care services," predicted Bermudez, a gay man who started working at API Wellness eight years ago and returned six months ago after finishing nursing school.

For the past several years API Wellness Center has been expanding its health care services. In 2015 its Polk Street clinic was designated a Federally Qualified Health Center and was rebuilt as the agency ramped up its capacity to treat more patients.

The satellite clinic in the LGBT center on upper Market Street marks the first time that comprehensive health services are being offered inside the LGBT center, part of a transformation of the facility that was unveiled to the public on Sunday. No longer largely a renter of meeting room space, the center has leased out two of its four floors to three local nonprofits that offer legal services and HIV prevention geared toward the Latino community in addition to the new health clinic.

"This center is transformed, and API Wellness is so proud to be a part of that future so the health care needs of our community are taken care of," said Toma.

District 8 Supervisor Jeff Sheehy, a gay man who is HIV-positive and has long been an advocate around LGBT health issues, said he is "so excited" to welcome an API Wellness clinic to his district.

"It is so thrilling to me you guys have spread from the Tenderloin to here," Sheehy said at the opening ceremony Sunday.


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