When Tyler Mitchell went to a general health care practitioner a few years ago, just as the groundbreaking HIV preventative treatment of PrEP was introduced, he was shocked at what he was not told.
“I didn’t necessarily know a lot about PrEP at the time, so I didn’t attempt to engage about it,” said Mitchell, marketing and communications director for The Project of the Quad Cities. “But my provider was aware of the fact that I was a gay male and could be at an increased risk for HIV.
“Never did that physician mention PrEP, despite the fact that as my provider, they would have been fully capable of providing that to me. Gay and bisexual men make up 75 percent of HIV diagnoses. Imagine in my circumstance as a gay man, my doctor knowing I am gay but not having the knowledge or the comfort to share that important information with me.”
Mitchell’s story is just one reason why The Project, which serves nine Iowa counties and 13 Illinois counties, is now offering primary health care to all LGBTQ+ people.
“That is wonderful that you’re kind of breaking down those barriers and really filling a gap,” said Brittany Price of OurQuadCities.com’s Living Local during a recent interview with Mitchell. “I feel for those folks in the Quad Cities that, maybe unintended, but there may be some discrimination or not knowing what to ask.”
Health care access and equity is The Project’s mission for many marginalized communities. For example, TPQC works increasingly with Black and Hispanic/Latino communities, to help them overcome an alienation from regular health care, too. A study released earlier this month showed that Black people are three times as likely as whites and Hispanics to experience discrimination when seeking health care, reports the Urban Institute.
But focusing on health care for LGBTQ+ people is still a rare thing: The Project is the Quad Cities’ only health care provider offering this specialized care, and the only one in many rural counties throughout both states. Other population centers in Iowa and Illinois that do have this service include Iowa City, through the University of Iowa; northern Iowa and Des Moines through UnityPoint; and several providers in the greater Chicago area.
Serving LGBTQ+ people with health care is a multi-faceted challenge that starts at a young age and can worsen as LGBTQ+ people age, say many studies.
“Young (LGBTQ+) individuals find it difficult to share their sexual identifies with their clinicians,” wrote the National Center for Biotechnology Information in April. “This lack of communication is responsible for the poor therapeutic alliance, lack of appropriate illness-related education, inadequate scheduled screening for communicable diseases, and inadequate interventions to prevent STDs.”
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