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LifeLong Medical Care’s approach to LGBTQ+ healthcare

Blog Contribution
Sylvia Hacaj, Director of Development & Communications

“We celebrate the fact that all LifeLong services are provided by and for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.” – David B. Vliet, CEO, LifeLong Medical Care

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When LifeLong Program Coordinator for Sexual Health Services, Zackery Pittman approached the Oakland LGBTQ Community Center almost two years ago, he had no idea of the relationship that would develop between LifeLong and the East Bay’s LGBTQ community. He ended up working part-time at the Center’s Glenn Burke Wellness Clinic testing clients for HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and offering PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), a drug that’s given to prevent HIV in people at high risk.

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Zack was motivated to work in HIV after the death of his best friend in 2019. “He never saw the benefit of daily PrEP and was ultimately diagnosed with HIV,” he says. “Like so many other young people, he just didn’t know how to navigate the healthcare system. This, combined with his new HIV diagnosis was just too much for him mentally and physically, and he committed suicide. He was only twenty-eight. I remember thinking, ‘If he had me for support and this still happened, what is happening to people with no one to support them?”

“It’s really been remarkable seeing people coming through the door who are not getting the services they need anywhere else – people who are not engaged in primary care at all,” says LifeLong Family Nurse Practitioner Layla Welborn who also provides services at the clinic.

Gender-affirming care is a needed doorway to healthcare access in general – Layla Welborn

“Because we are providing gender affirming care, people are also able to access health care in a safe setting. They are also getting screened for diabetes for the first time, or dealing with that back pain, or finally talking about their heart palpitations. Gender-affirming care is a needed doorway to healthcare access in general,” says Layla. LifeLong plans to expand primary health care services at the Glen Burke Wellness Clinic in the fall.

Dr. Samali Lubega is LifeLong’s lead HIV physician. Her interest in HIV care started when she was very young. Her mother is from Zimbabwe and her father is from Uganda. During the HIV epidemic in the 1990s, four of her aunts and uncles who were still living in those countries, contracted HIV. In a matter of months, both of her parents lost sisters.

She saw the need for a more holistic approach to our HIV services. As a result, in addition to medical treatment, LifeLong patients with HIV have access to behavioral care, food support, and housing support. Her team also partnered with a health technologies company to pilot an innovative program using a Smart phone app to connect and engage HIV patients with their health care team. During the pandemic, these services made a real difference. “We can proactively support patients with tools like this. Longer term, the bigger goal is to find innovative approaches to ending HIV transmission,” she says.

Nurse Practitioner Corey Bohman, Associate Medical Director at LifeLong’s East Oakland Health Center, places a special emphasis on attracting people of color in the East Bay LGBTQ community, “so that people don’t have to leave East Oakland, for instance, and go to San Francisco. They can get health care in the neighborhood they live in.”

Corey, a transgender man, has about 40 transgender patients in his panel. He also leads our internal transgender working group made up of nurses, medical assistants, call center staff, and others. “It’s kind of a work in progress within LifeLong,” he says.

LifeLong’s CEO, David B. Vliet, summed it up best when he said, “We celebrate the fact that all LifeLong services, at all LifeLong sites, are provided by and for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. That’s a beautiful thing!” 

Learn more about LifeLong Medical Care HERE.