While they’ve been seeing patients since July, a private reception to thank donors and announce a collaboration with Wayne State University was held Dec. 7 at the Corktown Heath Center, Michigan’s first health center focused on the LGBTQ community.
“We want to really change the healthcare environment for the LGBT community, and that will change the healthcare environment for all people,” said Anthony Williams, chief executive officer for Corktown Health Center. .
The opening marked the culmination of five years of talks and planning for Health Emergency Lifeline Programs. The agency, which was founded in 1986, announced plans to open the center early last year. Originally slated for a September 2016 opening, construction and other delays pushed back the opening by almost a year. Now, however, it’s all systems go.
“I am excited,” said Loretta Bush, chief executive officer of the Michigan Primary Health Care Association. “I have known the organization HELP for many years and I know the fine work that the organization has done in the HIV and AIDS arena.
“I remember the conversations many years ago with Patrick Yankee [Corktown Health’s chief development officer] saying that there needed to be a clinic focused on the LGBT community and that we needed to do it here in the city of Detroit,” Bush continued. “Never was there a doubt that it could happen. The only question was where and when. But we knew one day we would be here celebrating this day.”
Bush said she is sure the clinic will be a resounding success.
“We know you’re going to have a great impact on all of the health disparities that we know about – the delays in getting primary care treatment, delays in behavioral health treatment – all the things that we know impact this population,” she said. “To be able to provide comprehensive high quality culturally competent care to this community is so important.”
Dr. Diane Levine, vice chair for education for the Department of Internal Medicine for the Wayne State School of Medicine, announced the medical school’s new LGBT medicine track in WSU’s Internal Medicine and residency program to be housed at Corktown Health Center in early 2018.
“When I heard about this opportunity I was so incredibly excited to be a part of something that was going to make a difference,” Levine said. “The way that I see Wayne State University and this clinic being involved together is not just about a track for internal medicine residents but actually about providing an opportunity to train the medical students at Wayne State University, and there’s 300 every year. That’s 1200 in the school, and they all graduate to be good physicians but they’re not all good physicians in providing care for the LGBT community. We need to train physicians who are ready to practice and take care of our people. In my vision, we will have every student at the university, every medical student, come here and serve in some capacity to make a difference.”
Dr. LaTonya Riddle is Corktown Health’s medical director. She spoke about how happy she is to be a part of the center.
“I want you to know what an honor and a privilege it is to serve as the first medical director for Corktown Health Center,” said Riddle. “If you know anything about LGBT health education, the average medical student only gets five hours of education in any health related items when it comes to the LGBT community. And that is a travesty.”
Riddle introduced Dr. Jack Sobel, dean of the Wayne State University School of Medicine.
“For far too long the people who make up the patient core of the center have been ostracized, abused, mistreated and have been forced to live often in fear and shame, forced to forgo consistent health care for no other reason than for being who they are,” Sobel said. “This will stop with the existence of this clinic and we are committed to its success. For too long we have refused to recognize that our patients, all our patients, are our daughters, and our brothers and our sisters and our family and everyone deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. We are committed to our fingertips to [Corktown Health’s] continued success.”
Leseliey Welch, a consultant to Corktown Health, spoke from personal experience about the need for the clinic.
“It was 2009 and my partner and I had just lost a baby,” Welch recalled. “We lost a pregnancy at five months. I was needing some grief counseling. I was having a really hard time. I looked on the back of my insurance card and I go to a provider and this provider recommended by my insurance seemed to be more interested at that time in understanding how a woman like me, in a relationship like mine, got pregnant and was having a family. So, in that session, I was doing more education for her about who I was and what my family had gone through than I was getting anything that I needed in the way of grief counseling and support. I walked out and never looked back.
“I went and opened my Between The Lines newspaper and found myself an identified gay friendly provider and got the counseling that we needed at that time,” Welch continued. “I should not have had to do that, and none of us should have to do that. Especially, those of us who don’t have the type of resources to pay out of pocket to make it happen. So, it is that experience for me, that fuels my passion for this work.”
Funding for Corktown Health Center has so far come from over $500,000 in direct financial support from HELP, about $200,000 in in-kind contributions and $891,000 in new grants from eight local foundations, including Blue Cross Blue Shield, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the Detroit Health Department and The Jewish Fund.
Yankee announced the launch of a new $3 million campaign. Funds will be used to expand administrative and program development capacity, finalize the purchase of the building, expand media and marketing and complete the community education training center. He said Corktown is seeking to kick start the campaign by raising $200,000 by the middle of January. BCBS representatives presented a large check for another grant of $75,000 toward this new goal.
The Corktown Health Center expects to see over 800 patients in the coming year. The clinic is located at 1726 Howard St. in Corktown. For more information, call 313-832-3200.