2019 Week 2: Healthcare/Health Policy
“Well, how far are we willing to go? Where is the line?”
Last Monday, BHRC hosted a legislative stakeholder meeting for our bill that would authorize overdose prevention sites (OPS) throughout Maryland. We had introduced it this past session for the 5th year in a row and pushed it further than ever, but ultimately the bill did not pass. Throughout the meeting, different stakeholders–staff, involved residents, delegates, staffers–expressed strategies for next legislation session, brainstormed about what we could do differently, and debriefed on this past spring. Though all of this discussion is necessary, I found that one point of discussion stuck in my mind: setting the boundaries of compromise.
Midway through, one of my colleagues asked something along the lines of, “If we are going to compromise, how far do we stretch it? Basically, where does it stop?” I was most surprised by the answers around the room, all from people regularly working on legislation in Annapolis. “Any victory is a victory.” “This bill is hard to pass, so we should just try to pass it and be happy with that.” “We do what we can.”
Political compromise is a tough subject for me. I am a pretty idealistic person: my reflections and thoughts are often about seeing the world as it should be, helping to create the world as I wish it were. While my brain knows that we need strategies rooted in reality, my heart still wants to keep pushing for better. I don’t want to settle for less in the hopes that better will come in the future; I want to do the absolute best, for the people and communities I’m working with, the first time around.
Looking back on this situation now, I am surprised as much as I am disheartened by policy work. If we only authorize OPS for 2 years and then it gets shut down again, so we have to turn away the people we’ve began to serve, is that a victory? If we can only work with people who inject drugs because the facility is classified as a safe injection site, so we have to turn away people who snort or smoke or swallow drugs, is that a victory?
What kind of victory would it be if we are not meeting the needs of people who are most marginalized and just pandering to the political leanings of (mostly) wealthy, older, white men sitting up in Annapolis?
All this being said, I wholeheartedly appreciate and recognize the need for policy work, decriminalization, legalization, and all the in-between. Now, I am moving forward with an answer to a question I never asked: am I the right kind of person for policy work? The answer seems to be no, so you can find me providing services at the grassroots, happily enjoying the space I have to be idealistic.
As the weeks go by, I’m growing increasingly comfortable in my space at the Joy Wellness Center. During Week 1, I was a mere stranger to most staff members and all patients that entered; however, I’ve seamlessly become a familiar face that invites warm greetings and cheerful conversations. I’m genuinely in awe of the atmosphere at the Joy Wellness Center. You walk through the doors and are immediately overcome with a sense of calm—it’s almost as if it’s impossible to be less than at ease. While the sound machines emitting rhythmic ocean waves and essential oil diffusers releasing soothing scents share a hand in the maintenance of this peaceful ambiance, it’s the warmth of the staff and community members that led to its creation in the first place. The Joy Wellness Center is a truly happy place to be.
This week, I learned the “background stories” of several individuals that come into the Joy Wellness Center every day; I’ve learned of the personal growth that each person has experienced since their initial visit, the trials and tribulations that they’ve endured in their personal lives that lead them to seek the very services that the center offers. Though each person that I’ve connected with has a unique story, I noticed that it’s their motivation, tenacity, and self-love that link them together on a single thread. In many ways, it’s been apparent how the Joy Wellness Center has been able to enliven these qualities in people and bring them to the forefront of their minds, allowing them to realize what they are capable of and what they deserve. I admire this deeply; not only does it dramatically improve the quality of life of community members by allowing them to make physically beneficial health changes, but it also significantly nourishes their emotional/mental wellbeing. Physical and mental health go hand in hand, and by acknowledging this, the Joy Wellness Center takes an effective approach to improving community health.
This week was primarily about me using what I learned from the previous week to guide my decisions. I mentioned that I had an exam this week that tested my ability to label documents at the Clinic correctly, which I thankfully passed. Now that I passed the exam I am supposed to take on even more responsibilities around the front desk of Shepherd’s Clinic.
A new volunteer came in this week and my supervisor left me with the responsibility of training her. Honestly I felt so relieved knowing that someone who had never been here before was working along side me. Sometimes I feel pressure when dealing with people with more experience than me because I don’t want to look stupid or ask annoying questions. I really enjoy
the feeling of being able to help others. My goal when working with the new volunteer was to let them know that making mistakes is all a part of learning and that they could ask me a billion questions. I wanted them to feel comfortable around me and to see me as relatable person. When I first started working I didn’t really have anyone who would laugh off mistakes or cheer me up when I failed. I would have really appreciated that because I was super nervous for the whole first week. I think I did a really good job of maintaining this balance between being a trainer and being a good friend.
I can also feel that I am gaining more trust from patients at the clinic. During the first week, patients rarely came up to me to schedule appointments and usually asked to speak to the more experienced people at the front desk. This week however, patients approached me with trust. Phone calls would come into the clinic and people would ask to speak with me directly because they remembered me from previous calls. It was a warm feeling. Typically they would just ask for the call to be transferred to my mentor, but for the first time this week the call was forwarded to me. It was a pretty huge achievement for me and Im really proud of my growth. I feel a lot more confident now and I think that pretty soon I’ll be able to manage the front desk all on my own.
Now that Baltimore Pride is over, the pace of the office has gone back to normal. I am currently designing an interactive LGBTQ 101 jeopardy game for first-year medical students, which will focus on six important topics: gender identity and gender expression, sexual orientation, terminology, relationships, historical dates, and famous figures. As someone who is pursuing medicine, increasing LGBTQ cultural and clinical competency is a professional and personal priority for me, and this was one of the primary reasons why I was keen on working at STAR TRACK in the first place. STAR TRACK provides comprehensive and essential health resources and services to youth, particularly queer youth as well as LGBTQ 101 training workshops through the University of Maryland and throughout the city. In fact, I also learned that STAR TRACK has its own adolescent health clinic, and my hope is to spend a few hours there every week helping with intake, interacting with youth, and gaining some clinical exposure.
Working at STAR TRACK this week has reminded me of the struggles and barriers that LGBTQ patients face. LGBTQ individuals experience very unique healthcare needs and issues due to stigma, discrimination, cis heteronormative pressures, and a general lack of provider knowledge and competency which all must be redressed through adequate education and training. The fact that I am creating educational material that will be used by and hopefully benefit physicians-in-training and impact the medical community overall is a meaningful and reflective experience to me that relates to my career aspirations and personal goals.
As a side project, I am also conducting a literature review for a staff member who is writing a book chapter on the sociobehavioral monitoring capacity of racial identity, race centrality, metastereotype awareness, and the intersection of these qualities with sexual orientation. Everything on my plate is a work in progress right now, and I am excited to see where these projects will take me in the coming weeks.
I’ve just finished the first two weeks of my internship at Keswick, and the time has passed so quickly. I went into my internship thinking that it would be very structured and organized, as Keswick is not a grassroots nonprofit organization and is a healthcare organization. However, I quickly learned that this was not the case; for one, I was working on the community health and thus non-clinical side, and for another, the Wise & Well Center (community health side) with which I was placed had only existed as an official center for just under one year, having officially opened in September 2018.
On my first day I had learned that one staff member had just left the Friday before I had arrived, the facilitator for the brain health classes had just taken leave for the rest of the month, and to make matters worse, my own supervisor was leaving at the end of my second week there. I’ve now said goodbye to my supervisor and adjusted to the pace and environment of working in the Wise & Well Center, but I still have much to learn and only 6 weeks to do so.
My supervisor’s departure has forced me to think about the end of my own time at Keswick, and as soon as I have had to take on some of her previous responsibilities, the same duties will be passed on to someone else once I leave. The constant shifting of responsibilities made me feel a bit hopeless at first; I felt like my time at Keswick would barely make an impact on the future of the center, and I felt like a short term band-aid on the inevitable problems of understaffing in nonprofit work. However, I’ve realized that although my time is short, the work I’m doing is invaluable in freeing up time for my coworkers, however brief, to focus on more pressing priorities in the center.
If I could describe my second week of working this summer in one word, I would choose the word “eye-opening.” A lot of this week dealt with the aftermath of our tabling event and Elder Pride tent from last weekend, and seeing the process of post-pride work was almost as fun as its pre-pride counterpart. At the beginning of the week, I joined the office for a staff meeting in which we discussed upcoming pride festivals in Havre de Grace and Howard County. Although I know that the entire month of June is pride month, I was surprised that there were other areas of Maryland hosting their own celebrations (some even for the first time ever!) just after Baltimore’s, which even attracted folks from out of state. In this staff meeting I also got to learn about an upcoming conference in October called “Gender Journey.” I found the conference to be really interesting and exciting because it was aimed not just at healthcare providers or other professionals, but also has programming for gender diverse youths and parents. This internship so far has provided a lot of valuable behind-the-scenes information to me regarding big events, and has also prompted me to gain a new appreciation for the work that everybody does for these types of projects.
After the transition from what I would fondly call “pride mode” to “regular office mode,” I found myself working a lot on research statistics and making sure that they were up to date. My supervisor, Kate, handles the educational aspect of our office. She is constantly training others on how to best provide healthcare and services for the LGBT community. Having assisted her in multiple trainings, I can see how her work can really change someone’s relationship with a doctor, with healthcare, and therefore change their life. I’m so excited and proud to be a part of these trainings. Reading reports, papers, and other statistics has also proved to be an invaluable type of education for myself as well. I love that this job challenges me to continue to learn about topics that I normally wouldn’t have educated myself on, such as the rate at which trans folks in Maryland specifically have experienced discrimination in public, in healthcare, or in housing. It continues to emphasize the importance of supportive interactions between people in any setting, and opens my eyes to the disparities in healthcare, as well as possible ways to remedy them.Tags: Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition, Chase Brexton LGBT Health Resource Center, CIIP, ciip 2019, Harm reduction, Joy Wellness Center, Keswick, Shepherd's Clinic, STAR TRACK