Updated: Mar 23, 2021
Divulging details about your personal life to a stranger can feel uncomfortable, especially when it comes to sexual health. That risky behavior that you indulged in with that super sexy stranger last Saturday night may leave you with a lingering question in the back of your mind: “Should I have been more careful?” Now, the right thing to do is get tested, but the fear of judgment from your doctor, or admitting that part of your sexual history to the health care professional you barely know is enough to deter most people from having an STD test. Never mind the stress of waiting for the results. Many people ignore the health risks until symptoms surface, and thus many STDs go untreated before diseases are already transmitted. Local health care professionals have decided it’s time to offer Rhode Islanders an alternative to the avoidance and fear around taking control of one’s sexual health.
Open Door Health (ODH) is a new 501(c)(3) non-profit health care center scheduled to open in November with a mission to provide quality holistic care to the LGBTQ community in and around Providence. This will be the first LGBTQ- centerd health clinic in the area. ODH will offer primary care as well as express STD screens and HIV and AIDS testing.
The ODH facility, located at 7 Central Street in Providence, was still under construction when Options came to visit, but it is easy to see that there is a comfortable, chic, and welcoming feel as you walk in. Amy Nunn, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Public Health Institute (RIPHI), says the design of the clinic was inspired by the Dean Street Clinic in London and they hope to have local artists decorate the inside and outside of the building to enhance the welcoming environment they're creating.
Primary care and sexual health are currently the main focuses at ODH, but they plan to expand to have mental health counselors, and will recruit professionals who specialize in women’s health and transgender health. Dr. Philip A. Chan said, “There is a focus on sexual health and we also want to ensure that all LGBTQ needs are addressed.”
The flexibility and convenience of this clinic may surprise you. They offer to travel to clients for STD screens, and they’ll provide free health care to those in need, walk-in rapid testing and appointments, and access to expert medical specialists. And they pledge to treat everyone as an individual. Dr. Chan said, “Honesty and open communication is key when working with people. Hopefully we will be a fit for those who don’t feel comfortable with their doctors so everyone can communicate openly.”
ODH has an impressive list of community and municipal partners well beyond the expected health care organizations, including church groups, housing authorities, Community Action Programs, and food-related organizations. The ODH board of directors agree that the aim is to treat the whole person, and a variety of resources will be available including housing, nutrition, and support groups. “We hope to be cutting edge nationally with our leadership and our board,” said board member Leonard Green. They want everyone to feel safe and comfortable when confiding in the health professionals at ODH. There is a Community Advisory and Action Board (CAAB) that met in August to provide feedback on ODH services and to maintain connections within the community.
Board member Mark Tracy said, “we are very lucky to have a very diverse state. To me the way to solve intractable problems is to have vibrant and different perspectives. I am very optimistic because of Rhode Island’s size that we will export Open Door Health outside of Rhode Island. I hope we can actually change health care in this country.”
Rhode Island has one of the highest rates of LGBTQ-identifying people per capita in the country, and all board members agree that it’s high time that an innovative clinic specializing in LGBTQ health opens in Providence. As the first health center of its kind, Amy Nunn said, “we want to get it right by serving the public the best way.”
Open Door Health aims to make healthcare more accessible for everyone, and is committed to providing high-quality, patient-centered care to LGBTQ Rhode Islanders and the community at large. To learn more, visit the RI Public Health Institute’s website: RIPHI.org.