By Melissa Lowery
When Chase Brexton Health Care opened in 1978, at the corner of Chase and Brexton Streets in Baltimore, Maryland, there was a dearth of safe, respectful health care services available to the LGBT community. Now, the organization has five locations and provides services to a variety of patients.
Originally, Chase Brexton was a small operation of volunteers started as a health clinic for gay men, but rapidly grew to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Since then, it has expanded both in locations and services, including a strong primary care component, obstetrics/gynecology services, behavioral health, pharmacy and dental care. Chase Brexton is a Federally Qualified Health Center and is accredited by The Joint Commission. The Human Rights Campaign has consistently recognized Chase Brexton as a leader in LGBT health care equality in its annual Healthcare Equality Index.
“Our mission, in a nutshell, is that our door is open to anybody,” said Becky Frank, director of development and marketing. “Anybody can walk in our front door any day without an appointment, without a doctor, having never been here before, without a job, without health insurance – and they will be seen by a doctor that day. Nobody is ever turned away.”
After decades at the forefront of providing quality health care for the LGBT community, Chase Brexton is seen as an authority in the field. Practitioners have testified at the Maryland State House on various issues, including the recent legislation regarding how gender markers can be changed on state of Maryland birth certificates.
As a pioneer, Chase Brexton had to create many of its own forms — allowing same-sex partners to be listed or recognizing transgender persons — and tackled inequalities within the electronic health records system.
Approximately 22 percent of Chase Brexton’s patients are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning/queer, a testament to the welcoming environment at the clinics. Nate Sweeney, executive director of Chase Brexton’s LGBT Resource Center, said that providing a safe place for the LGBT community to seek medical care is a top priority for the organization.
“We get to support our community,” Sweeney said. “We get to be a beacon of wellness and acceptance and love. We have the honor of working in a place that for so many people is known to them as one of their safe spaces.”
A large percentage of the Chase Brexton staff identifies with the LGBT community, and the leadership strives to ensure that all members of the staff feel comfortable in the workplace and comfortable with who they are in the workplace.
“We have a very diverse workforce not only within the LGBT community, but also across cultures, across socioeconomic boundaries,” Frank said. “The desire and directive to ensure a comfortable workplace comes from the senior leadership team across the spectrum of employees.”
The organization integrates diversity within the supply chain as well, following a minority procurement policy that guides the minority business enterprises protocols for providing services to Chase Brexton.
“A lot of the vendors that we use on the development side are LGBT,” Frank said. “We’ve got a fairly good representation across the board, I think.”
After several years of expanding to new locations, the organization is focused on expanding its current sites over the next year or so. Construction in several of the current locations will be completed in the next several months, allowing the addition of more providers to meet the needs of the community.
In addition, this year the LGBT Health Resource Center was launched, providing LGBT individuals and their families with welcoming access to expert health information and resources that enhance wellness and quality of life.
“In response to all of the growth of Chase Brexton over the years, the board really wanted to make sure that we maintained that cornerstone of our history in the LGBT community,” said Sweeney, who was named executive director in 2014 and helped shepherd the launch.
The Center’s goal is to provide resources for all ages and stages of life. Through a partnership with Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders or SAGE, the Center is working with older LGBT adults in Baltimore, the first such program in the area.
Over the summer, Sweeney and his team successfully launched an LGBT young professionals network, drawing more than 100 people to the first event.
“A lot of young LGBT folks are looking to build their professional network and give themselves a better footing in Baltimore,” Sweeney said. “We are looking for great opportunities for them to put on professional development programs, as well as fundraisers, so they can grow their own professional networks and skill sets, all while raising money for the LGBT Resource Center and our services.”
Although the LGBT Resource Center is affiliated with Chase Brexton, it is intended to serve the entire Baltimore LGBT community, not only those who seek medical care at the clinics.
“The services we provide are for patients as well as nonpatients,” Sweeney said. “So, it is a way for us to engage with the entire community and just really start to look around to find ways to make referrals to the other service providers in town. When we find places where no one is doing anything — such as around LGBT older adults — let’s start to do something.”