The first LGBTQ+ specific health clinic in Northern Virginia will be opening next week as part of the Inova Health System. That’s happening as Kaiser Permanente’s Pride Medical at Capitol Hill celebrates its first year of providing culturally sensitive care in a judgement-free environment.
“I was so excited when I saw that because I thought ‘We will have the whole DMV covered with care now.’ And it will be convenient care for our communities,” said Karen Berube, Inova’s vice president for population/community health division.
Berube believes health care is evolving.
“It’s really a realization that health care providers are beginning to understand that there are certain patient populations who have unique needs and we need to be able to be flexible, and address those needs and provide care in the way that our patients want to receive that care,” she said.
A group of physicians interested in providing care to the LGBTQ+ community at Kaiser Permanente began working on the concept of Pride Medical about three years ago, according to Dr. Keith Egan, the assistant medical director of Kaiser Permanente’s Pride Medical and Gender Pathways program.
Now, “the three physicians who staff the program are physicians who have extensive experience serving the LGBTQ+ community before this clinic even opened up,” Egan said.
The staff at the Pride Medical clinic all receive additional sensitivity training, separate from the kind of the general training that all staff members at Kaiser Permanente undergo.
“LGBTQ+ patients have large health disparities in many different aspects of their care. And these are related to discrimination that they’ve experienced in the past and fears of the health care system,” Egan said.
Since Pride Medical’s soft opening for adult Kaiser Permanente members in June 2021, Egan said its impact has been growing.
“It’s very humbling to see the appointments fill up and have patients come in and tell you that they’re sharing things with you that they’ve never shared with another provider before,” he said. “But I think that we are making a difference for this population, and hopefully more and more patients will feel comfortable coming in.”
Berube said her angst related to LGBTQ+ health disparities began in the early 1990s when she was a social worker providing care in the HIV community. People who tested positive could get care through Inova’s Juniper Program.
But she kept hearing from people in the community who tested negative say that they didn’t have a doctor or a place to receive the care they were comfortable with somewhere else.
“We didn’t really have anywhere to send them that we knew would be really sensitive to their health care needs,” she said.
Inova’s Pride Clinic will be open to anyone who needs services. It will begin small as a primary care practice for patients of all ages and then grow to include specialties.
It’s looking to hire a licensed clinical therapist specializing in providing care to the LGBTQ+ community to support mental health concerns if, for example, people have substance abuse concerns, want gender reaffirming care or need psychosocial support.
“As soon as the OB-GYN residents heard that we were opening a Pride Clinic, they reached out to me to ask if they could start providing care through their residency at the clinic,” Berube said. “So, we have a lot a lot of interests from sub specialties who want to come and do clinics at the Pride location.”
The Inova Pride Clinic ribbon-cutting will be Wednesday, June 8 at 10 a.m. in Falls Church at 500 North Washington St., Suite 200.
“The LGBTQ+ plus community is a huge community in Northern Virginia that I think has gone with unmet needs for quite some time,” Berube said.
“And that’s not to say that there aren’t physicians who do a wonderful job taking care of the LGBTQ+ community, because they do — they are there. But to have a unique program, I think is really going to be special for the community.”