Clinic business

LGBTQ-focused health clinic serves vulnerable residents

When Rob Phoenix was growing up gay in rural Pennsylvania, he never had anyone he felt comfortable asking about sex or his body.

Today, the 56-year-old family nurse practitioner is doing her best to ensure that others will not face this situation through her Huntridge Family Clinic, the only LGBTQ-focused health clinic in southern Nevada. Its goal is to provide care for all of a patient’s needs, regardless of who they are, their needs, or their ability to pay.

Now his small clinic on East Sahara Avenue is having a big impact on the LGBTQ community.

Huntridge fills a niche for Nevadans who may struggle to find healthcare providers who understand and are willing to meet their needs. Since opening in 2013, the clinic has evolved to meet demand and provide holistic care to some of Nevada’s most vulnerable residents.

“Anyone can feel comfortable talking about what they do in the bedroom or in the car or behind the bar or wherever they do what they do,” Phoenix said.

Expansion plan

Huntridge staff provide primary care, HIV prevention and treatment, and hormone care to patients, approximately 80% of whom identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender.

“Without them, I don’t know what we would do,” said Laura Hernandez, director of the Nevada Alliance for Student Diversity, a student and parent advocacy organization that promotes racial and gender diversity. “I don’t know where our families would be. I don’t know how we would get out of this. »

An estimated 5.5% of Nevadans identify as LGBTQ, the third highest rate in the nation behind Oregon and Washington DC, and Clark County is home to 78% of queer Nevadans, according to the Williams Institute of UCLA School of Law.

Phoenix was named the Southern Nevada Health District’s 2018 Public Health Hero for his work at the clinic and with the district’s Office of Epidemiology and Disease Surveillance.

The clinic opened in 2013, operating Monday mornings with two exam rooms in a 1,000 square foot space it shared with the now defunct Huntridge Teen Clinic. Three years later, the family clinic moved to another building, and in January 2021, it moved to a more spacious location at 1820 E. Sahara Ave.

The clinic is a Southern Nevada leader in HIV research and the delivery of post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). The clinic has 19 staff, sees 20 to 40 patients a day, and serves about 700 to 800 HIV prevention patients as one of the largest such providers in the state, Phoenix said.

In February, the clinic spent $3,000 to pay rent for patients. He spent an extra $3,000 a few weeks ago to pay for a sober patient’s month-long stay at an inpatient rehabilitation facility, he said.

Huntridge takes commercial and Medicaid insurance, offers a sliding-scale cash payment system for those without insurance, and participates in the federal Ryan White HIV/AIDS assistance program. The clinic even accepted tamales as payment, when one year at Christmas a patient said she couldn’t pay her copayment.

These expenses come with the territory. As Phoenix said, “I’m not in this business to get rich. I’m in this business to provide services, and to me, that’s a cost to the business.

“This is the place to go”

Most of the clinic’s patients come by word of mouth or are referred by other providers. Huntridge also partners with the Southern Nevada LGBTQ Center for HIV and STI Testing and Treatment and the center’s substance abuse program.

The clinic’s partnerships with community groups and individual leaders are a strength, said Rainier Liboro, a psychology professor at UNLV, who studies health disparities among racial, sexual and gender minorities and is responsible research in a mental health research laboratory. Liboro recently partnered with the clinic to find willing participants in two studies of gay and bisexual men living with HIV.

Liboro said the clinic models how an LGBTQ-focused clinic can work, a community beacon to replicate and support.

“As an openly gay man, I’m more comfortable seeking help from a healthcare provider who understands and knows my needs without me having to explain it to them or specify what’s wrong with me. would make you more comfortable,” Liboro said. ” It’s not nothing. It’s a huge thing.

Hernandez, the director of the diversity alliance, said the clinic tops the list she keeps for referrals.

“Everyone goes there because it’s the place to go,” she says.

Hernandez’s daughter is a patient at the clinic. Her daughter began her transition several years ago and at the time was prescribed puberty blockers, which gave her time to go through her transition before deciding whether or not to start hormone replacement therapy. . Phoenix allowed Hernandez to pay cash at a dramatically reduced cost for otherwise “outrageously expensive” puberty blockers when she lost her insurance during a job change.

Without this option, Hernandez said, her child would not have received the care she needed.

“People don’t really understand how teenage mental health is affected as they start going through puberty, which makes them feel like their bodies are giving them away,” Hernandez said. But Huntridge understands, she says.

Supply and demand

With high demand, patients sometimes face long waiting times. Although the clinic has taken steps to streamline the patient care process and wait times, the clinic is often booked a few months for new patient visits, Phoenix said.

Hernandez said she knows several families who were frustrated with wait times and sought care elsewhere, only to end up at the clinic months later because they didn’t feel safe with the new provider. . There is a dire need for more queer care, she says.

“I wouldn’t want to be in a position where I have to try to figure out how to create the infrastructure to meet the demand that’s out there,” she said. “It’s hard work, and I think they’re doing a good job.”

She said there were some 300 families in the alliance network and between 50 and 80 of them were moving out of state to places like California and Colorado for medical treatment.

Krista Whitley speaks enthusiastically about the clinic, thinking enough of the care her 12-year-old son, Kai Castellarin, received at Huntridge to leave a four-paragraph review on the clinic’s Facebook page on April 1, 2021. Kai introduced as a trans boy to his family on Valentine’s Day last year, and Whitley made an appointment 45 days later at the clinic.

Kai, then 11, left his first visit to Huntridge feeling confident, validated and “like he had the tools in his toolbox that he needed to really live his truth,” his mother said. .

They are now among the families who travel for care – Whitley said she can afford to travel to Beverly Hills every three to six months so Kai can get more tailored care with shorter wait times .

Still, she considers Phoenix a community pioneer and continues to recommend the clinic as an “absolute number one choice” to local families seeking LGBTQ-friendly care.

She credits Phoenix and the clinic for empowering Kai, a 12-year-old honorary student on her college’s boys’ soccer team and founder of the school’s Pride Club.

“Sometimes it only takes one positive experience to really set a good foundation for these kids, because one negative experience can be so disheartening,” Whitley said.

here to stay

Phoenix hopes to expand Huntridge’s offerings.

He is awaiting regulatory approval to open an in-house pharmacy. He has unused office space that he says could house a behavioral and mental health component. And he’s looking for a building to set up a sobering center, where drug addicts can wait out their intoxication in a safe environment rather than a potentially expensive emergency room visit.

Phoenix said he wants Huntridge to become more efficient at the things he already offers, but he has a hard time saying “no” to expanding the services the clinic offers.

Las Vegas needs more housing and substance use resources beyond the “revolving doors” of inpatient care facilities, he said. The Valley also needs more health care providers who focus on the disparities experienced by LGBTQ people, especially people of color, he added.

“I have a lot of patients who come in and they’re like, ‘Nobody’s ever had a conversation with me about my sexual health,'” Phoenix said.

John Waldron, CEO of the LGBTQ Center of Southern Nevada, said gay people often struggle to find qualified and knowledgeable medical providers to meet their health needs.

A 2019 Human Rights Campaign survey found that 56% of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people and 70% of transgender people said they had experienced discrimination from healthcare providers.

Phoenix, Waldron said, is committed to helping transgender and intersex Nevadans and teaching other practitioners and community members.

Huntridge welcomes students and residents in nursing, medicine and pharmacology to work outside the clinic. Phoenix said he wants to educate students about HIV treatment and prevention, gender-affirming care like puberty blockers and hormone replacement therapy and other relevant care. Then, he said, they will be equipped with the knowledge and skills to effectively help gay patients and potentially open their own LGBTQ-focused clinics or practices.

Silver State Equality Director Andre Wade said Phoenix’s efforts to close the gap in gay-centric medical care are making a difference.

“Even if it’s this one clinic that’s overloaded with people trying to get services, at least it’s there,” Wade said.

Contact Mike Shoro at mshoro@reviewjournal.com. To follow @mike_shoro on Twitter.