LGBTQI Suitcase Clinic: Queering Healthcare

February 14, 2013 in inQueery

It’s a gorgeously sunny Saturday afternoon at the Pacific Center in Berkeley. Erik, Katie, Andy, and Kate are setting up the outdoor waiting room. They wait for Nick to arrive with the keys to the office and lounge spaces which will be turned into medical examination rooms. The four greet me with a smile and look happy to be spending their Saturday hoping new patients in need of free medical care will show up. Once Nick arrives they quickly arrange the rooms and set up a side table full of free over-the-counter meds.

Nick Orozco and Kate Burmaster, both second-year med school students at the Joint Medical Program (JMP), started this newest—fourth—Suitcase Clinic in June 2012. After seeing some queer patients at the other clinics, they realized there was a specific need to serve the queer community in the East Bay and decided to expand the Suitcase model. In our conversation, they noted that in the medical community at large there is great ignorance about LGBTQ patients. So it’s not only that a lot of LGBT people don’t have access to care, but Kate said that the biggest reason why she came to Nick with the idea of the LGBTQI clinic was because “in med school people don’t learn enough about LGBT issues;” med students aren’t even taught basic terminology. She pointed out that “less than 5% of med schools cover any sort of queer curriculum.”

Katie Peters, 40, a Nurse Practitioner who also volunteers at the Youth Clinic, said that mostly people get a general check-up here, a prescription, or simply need a dose of health education or have to be referred out. Since this clinic operates as a “stopgap” sort of thing, explained Katie, most people need ongoing care, so these patients are usually referred out to the Berkeley Free Clinic.

Andy, a 21 year old pre-med student at UCSC, informs the patients about other free medical resources like where to get eye exams or glasses or where to find a homeless shelter. She also scans all their forms to keep it as part of their medical records. Andy joined the LGBTQI Suitcase Clinic as soon as it got started because she’s “aware of the lack in education for med students in terms of serving the queer community” and wanted to help out.

At the end of the day, a little after 3pm, I asked Erin, 46, about her visit. She moved here from Texas about a month ago and doesn’t have health insurance. She said the appointment was “very thorough; [they] asked pertinent questions, [were] very friendly, very warm,” and concluded that “it was a good visit.” She got everything she needed: her prescriptions were refilled and she received a new one, which she hopes will help better than the one she had before. Erin was very pleased with the attention, resources, and treatment she was provided here. Having never been to a free clinic before, she was “pleasantly surprised.”

The LGBTQI Suitcase Clinic is currently trying to get non-profit status so they can purchase meds at a more sustainable cost and apply for more grants.. They are open to the community every 2nd and 4th Saturdays of the month from 12:30pm until 3pm.

Jacqueline Bialostozky is a Staff Writer at InQueery.
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