Healthcare & Health Policy

VICTORIA CHEN - CHASE BREXTON, WEEK 1

With a wide smile plastered on my face, I strode nervously into Chase Brexton's glossy, marble lobby. Despite this being my second year in the program, it's still equally as nerve-wracking to walk into a new workplace with hundreds of unfamiliar faces. As I reflect back on my last summer with STAR TRACK, I can't help but year for the sense of belonging and community that I eventually felt at the end of my 8-week internship. Determined to forge new friendships and experience a new workplace culture, I took one last deep breathe and walked into the HR department.

On paper, Chase Brexton and STAR TRACK and very similar in many ways: both are healthcare providers, both advocate for the LGBT community, and both are leaders in providing primary care to people living with HIV/AIDS. However in reality, so much of the workplace culture is different. Whereas STAR TRACK is youth-centered and focuses on black empowerment, the LGBT Health Resource center at Chase Brexton is known for its flagship elderly program SAGE CAP (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders, Caring And Preparing). Additionally the POWER (Protecting Ourselves with Every Resource) Project not only conducts HIV testing, but also serves as a case management resource for people living with HIV. In many ways, the work that case managers conduct mirrors my volunteer experience with Health Leads, so it was reassuring to be in a semi-familiar environment.

My main goal for this summer, and the reason why I chose my placement area, is to compare and contrast how Chase Brexton serves the LGBT and/or HIV+ population, since it is a vastly different model from STAR TRACK. Since the demographics of each organization's population is also quite different, I want to explore the adaptability of different healthcare models and discover how branding can affect patient perceptions and outcomes.

 

Lucinda Chiu - Joy Wellness Center, WEEK 1

On my first day volunteering at the Joy Wellness Center, I spent the morning hours weeding the garden. Coming in with no prior experience, I was incredibly nervous, due to my inability to distinguish between weeds and sprouting vegetables. A couple minutes into the process, as I was beginning to feel more confident, I plucked a weed, whose leaves and stems were actually part of a sprouting squash seed. Though it seemed to be a minor mistake, I was devastated. My supervisor had spent the morning explaining how very few plants were sprouting this year, especially the squash. All the harvest from this garden is collected, washed, and then given to the patients. Now, I had just uprooted one, leaving only two to bear fruit for the patients. Despite my mistake, I informed my supervisor who then spent the following day with me, planting more seeds for all the other vegetables that had yet to sprout.
 

When I first began orientation week of the Community Impact Internship Program (CIIP), I felt that I knew so little of the city around me, despite having spent my past three years exploring and volunteering in different sectors. The feeling made me nervous to express my own opinions, given that I was not experienced in the topics being discussed, whether it related to homelessness or healthcare for illegal immigrants. Especially this past week, during Bites of Baltimore, we went on an Injustice Walk in an area of Baltimore I had never walked in. The discussion focused on homelessness in the city, and the various policies and structural changes that have occurred to either help or create additional challenges for this population. During the walk, I had many questions, but I didn’t ask a single one because I was scared my inquiry would be phrased wrong and I would end up coming off as offensive or ignorant.
 

Similarly, when I began at the Joy Wellness Center, I didn’t know how the office or the garden was run. After showing me where everything was and who to ask for help, my supervisor left to make some coffee. A patient walked in and my first instinct was to run and grab my supervisor. It was my first hour on the job, and I was incredibly worried I wouldn’t have the answers to her questions, and she would then view my supervisor badly for having an untrained staff at the front desk. Instead, I took a deep breath and greeted the elderly patient. We ended up having a forty-five minute conversation and she is now giving me crocheting lessons. This positive experience has continued throughout the week at my internship. I have now met many of the volunteers and between checking in the patients for the classes and appointments and calling them over the phone, I’ve spoken with many of the regulars as well.
Overall, I am excited for the next seven weeks. Though all the ins and outs of running a center was unfamiliar territory initially, I already feel comfortable in the office, not only doing the daily duties, but also in attempting to learn a new task each day. If orientation week has taught me one takeaway concept, it is to not let fear stand in the way of practical improvements and productive actions.

 

Poonam Gupta - Star TRACK, WEEK 1

"And this is the condom room! Here you'll find the dental dams, lube, flavored and magnum condoms, female insertive condoms, and dildos."
As one of the last stops on my tour of the building, I was definitely thrown out of my comfort zone within literally the first 10 minutes of my internship. The idea of redefining my comfort zone and my ability to step out of it has definitely been one of the larger themes of this week. As someone who didn't come into this experience with a strong competency in the LGBTQ area, especially what sex positive messaging looks like and what the issues around HIV consist of, I was caught off guard at the sheer amount of things that I just didn't know, and things that I wasn't sure I even wanted to know. Specifically, I had never been in an environment where sex was discussed both openly and positively, almost celebrated even. Their 3 words, safe, consensual, and pleasurable, to describe sex made me think twice about how I was always taught about it (basically as a surefire way to either an STD or pregnancy). Thus in my first week here, I learned a lot about sexuality, gender, and honestly even condoms.

I can't exactly say that at the end of this week I'm fully, or even half, competent now. However, what has increased is my awareness of the injustices present in the community and, more importantly, what has decreased is my propensity to judge and categorize others.

It’s not that I came in on the first day with a closed mindset – in fact, the exact opposite is true. I knew I’d be working in an LGBT clinic that focused on portraying sex in a positive way, and came in with an open mind filled with research on the definitions of sexuality I had looked up the night before. Upon first meeting people, I didn’t realize how quickly I boxed people into the categories I thought I knew, whether they be “straight” or “gay” or “ambiguous.” The more people I came into contact with, the harder I tried to figure out what they were and assign them to the boxes I had in my head. Usually, my assumptions were completely wrong or only partially true. Only when I started having real conversations with people did I start to realize that it didn't matter at all what box in my head they fit into, or if they were in multiple boxes or no box at all. Realizing that I don't understand people as much as I thought I did definitely made me step out of my comfort zone. However, I don't fear it as much as I did before! In fact, I look forward to being pushed even farther out of it in the weeks to come.

 

Joyce Lin - CHASE BREXTON, WEEK 1

This first week of my placement at Chase Brexton has been a huge kick in the face. The 9-5 life is not easy, but at the same time, I look forward to the summer at Chase Brexton because I feel that there are many opportunities that I would be interested to get involved in, after all the logistics get figured out.
As much as I enjoyed packing a variety of condoms into plastic giveaway bags, the highlight of my week was definitely shadowing a case manager while he performed rapid HIV testing on the clients who were of questionable HIV status. I'm looking forward to move beyond office organization and condom packing in the next few weeks and potentially have more interaction with patients!