LGBT Health Awareness Week Highlights Holes in Idaho’s Healthcare System

While organizations, clinics and healthcare systems across the country are hosting events and programs targeting the LGBT community this week, here in Idaho, National LGBT Health Awareness Week serves as a solemn reminder that there are still large areas of the country where the health care needs of a gay or transgender person are often ignored, forgotten, or under-served at best.

The cost of healthcare aside, the task of finding a physician that not only welcomes but understands the needs of a gay or transgender patient can seem overwhelming, especially in rural areas where a town may only have one doctor or where the nearest clinic maybe miles a way.

Sadly, even in heavily populated areas like Boise, many physicians and nurse practitioners aren’t trained to deal with the specific needs of their LGBT clients.

A few years ago a friend went to an emergency room at a Boise hospital after breaking out in some sort of itchy bumps covering most of his body, including his pubic region.

The friend told the doctor he was gay. He also explained that the bumps seemed to appear after he had spent an evening sitting in a friends hot tub.

The doctor took a quick look at the bumps and in less than two minutes later wrote up a prescription for Valtrex, the herpes medication.

My friend was horrified.

“We are seeing a lot of it, especially in young gay men,” the doctor told him.

Lucky, a few days later my friend scheduled an appointment with a dermatologist in order to get a second opinion. The second doctor quickly dismissed the herpes diagnosis and, after a quick test, found that the bumps were indeed caused by a bad case of “hot tub folliculitis.”

The doctor told him to throw away the expensive Valtrex medication and instead prescribed him an oral antibiotic, which cleared up the condition in less than a week.

“I will never tell another doctor about my sexual orientation again, ” my friend said later, “I suspect that had I not have told him that I was gay, he would have performed a proper examination rather than making a false diagnosis.”

A year or so ago, another friend started to ask his physician about some pain he was feeling during anal sex with his partner. The doctor, who he had been seeing for more than three years or so for routine exams, cut him off with an astonishing,” I don’t want to hear about your sex life.”

While there have been no real studies to speak of regarding the LGBT community’s access to healthcare in Idaho, it’s probably safe to say that the above anecdotes aren’t isolated cases.

More than one transgender person living in Idaho has reported having to educate their own physician about their own health needs, that is if the physician is willing to see them at all.

A quick search of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association website finds only two providers listed in Idaho. Dr. Marvin Alviso serves as a family practitioner specializing in HIV and AIDS in Boise and Dr. Cynthia Bunde specializes in women’s health at the Women’s Health Clinic in Pocatello.

While certainly not a comprehensive directory for physicians who accept and or meet the needs of LGBT patients in Idaho, the GLMA website does paint a somewhat bleak picture for Idahoans who turn to the internet in order to find a physician.

All is not lost though, even here in Idaho there are a number of great physicians who do except and treat LGBT clients.

So how does one go about finding a good doctor?

One neighboring state’s Public Health Department suggests the following:

Ask others. Friends and colleagues are a great resource when you are looking for a health care provider. Ask people you know who their provider is and what he or she is like. Ask friends what they like and value about their providers. It can be especially helpful to ask other GLBT people for referrals.

Interview potential health care providers. Once you have a list of potential providers (make sure that your insurance is accepted, if you have it), you may choose to set up visits with several of them in their offices. Let them know you are looking for a health care provider, and would like to briefly meet and talk with them. Ask if this interview can be free, and ask how much time you will have with the provider.

The website also suggests that LGBT clients ask the following questions:

What is your experience working with gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender patients?

What training have your staff have on LGBT issues?

Who takes backup calls when you are on vacation? Are they experienced with LGBT patients?

Do you maintain a list of LGBT friendly providers to whom you refer ? (A terrific primary provider still might refer you to a homophobic cardiologist or endocrinologist.)

How will you maintain patient confidentiality? (This may be especially important if you are a minor and you aren’t “out” to your parent/guardian.)

Are you willing to work with my other providers? (This is important if you decide to work with alternative health care providers such as naturopaths or acupuncturists.)

What do you think your patients appreciate most about you?

Providers themselves can help make a huge difference in the health of Idaho’s LGBT community by listing with sites like the GLMA, advertising with LGBT friendly websites and publications and by partnering with groups that focus on serving the health needs of the community.

Having a booth at pride events, partnering with HIV testing and prevention groups like Allies Linked for the Prevention of HIV and AIDS, or by getting involved in local community centers or LGBT programs are all great ways to get the word out that you are willing to serve LGBT patients.

Mental healthcare is another important area in which many LGBT individuals struggle to find the right provider. Due to lack of training, understanding, religious intolerance or blatant homophobia more than one LGBT client has been permanently emotionally and mentally scarred by the diagnosis and therapy of their so-called mental health “expert.”

Luckily, there seems to be a larger portion of mental health providers in Idaho willing to let potential LGBT clients know that they are available to meet their needs.

The Psychology Today website has a comprehensive county-by-county listing of therapists, psychologists, group therapy programs and other resources. It also contains listings for many of Idaho’s rural areas.

While important, a LGBT individual’s health goes far beyond simply getting tested for HIV every three months to six months. There are many specific needs, questions and concerns not faced by our straight counterparts.

If you don’t already have one, why not set aside some time this week to ask around and find a personal physician? While you are at it, this might also be a good week to get an HIV test, hit the gym, seek out a spiritual family or focus on that diet change as well. It’s also a good week to preview the Affordable Healthcare Act and learn how it will affect you. Remember, there is only one you and you owe it to yourself to make sure you’re in good health!

Click HERE for more LGBT Health Awareness Week resources.

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It’s National Native HIV and AIDS Awareness Day!

Today, March 20th, marks the first day of spring. It is also National Native HIV and AIDS Awareness Day. According to organizers,” This is a day to remember those who we have lost as a result of AIDS and to reignite our commitment to end the spread of this disease among native peoples.”

The task of combating HIV and AIDS in Native populations is a difficult one and it’s getting harder.

“People working to combat HIV in Indian Country are faced with a double whammy: infection rates are on the rise, but funding sources to fight the epidemic are drying up,” reports the Indian Country Today Media Network.

That’s in part to the Federal Government’s national HIV and AIDS strategy which is focusing on the nation’s highest HIV positive populated areas.

The problem with the strategy, according to Indian Country Today, is that means, “funds are being diverted away from rural and more sparsely populated areas. Those areas include most Indian nations, says Robert Foley, CEO of the National Native American AIDS Prevention Center(NNAAPC), a Denver, Colorado-based nonprofit group.”

“State heath departments in Idaho. Wyoming, North Dakota and other states with large Native populations are now seeing 10-15 percent drops in HIV prevention budgets, with up to 33 percent projected,” Foley told the Website. “Organizations within those states will have decreased access to HIV prevention dollars.”

There’s also still a lot of stigma surrounding the virus.

Melvin Harrison, founding executive director of the Navajo AIDS Network, or NAN, tells the website, “the fact that people are still reluctant to talk about HIV and AIDS compounds the data collection problem: Nobody talks about HIV in the tribal government; it’s too complex,” he said. “There’s homophobia. There’s HIV phobia. There’s AIDS phobia. There’s transgender phobia. It’s really frustrating.”

According to the CDC,“The HIV epidemic is a serious health threat to Native communities. Although American Indians/Alaska Natives or AIs and ANs represent 1% of the U.S. population, they have historically suffered high rates of health disparities, including HIV and AIDS. Overall, approximately 20% of HIV-infected Americans do not know they are infected, while among AIs and ANs this figure is closer to 25%. AIs and ANs diagnosed with HIV infection or AIDS die sooner after their diagnosis than members of any other ethnic or racial group, suggesting that they may be diagnosed late in the course of their infection. This underscores the importance of educating AIs and ANs on the facts about HIV prevention and increasing access to basic health care services. ”

The National Native HIV and AIDS Awareness Day website reports that, “since the beginning of the epidemic through 2008, 3,629 American Indians/Alaska Natives (AI/AN) have been diagnosed with AIDS. 1,847 AI/ANs with HIVand AIDS have passed away from the disease. In 2008, there were an estimated 2,306 AI/ANs living with HIV and AIDS – 1,650 men, 627 women and 29 children.”

Organizers behind the day say they,”encourage all Native communities to plan events to support HIV awareness. We need to continue to fight the stigma of this disease, encourage HIV testing, and raise the level of knowledge and awareness about HIV and AIDS. for more information, please visit www.aids.gov, or to find a testing center near you, visit www.hivtest.org.”

Here In Idaho, you can get a rapid oral HIV test at no charge through a.l.p.h.a. (Allies Linked for the Prevention of HIV and AIDS.).  The volunteer organization has offices located in Boise and Twin Falls, it also offers educational programs to equip individuals with the tools they need to help combat HIV, AIDS and other STIs in their communities.

You can also contact your local health department or visit the above websites to learn more.

Sendoff Dinner To Be Held For a.l.p.h.a. Founder Duane Quintana

The public is invited to a “Good Luck and See You Later”  dinner and karaoke event for Allies Linked for the Prevention of HIV and AIDS ( a.l.p.h.a.) founder and soon to be former director, Duane Quintana.  The event will be held this Saturday, January 21st from 5:30-6:30 pm at Quintana’s favorite restaurant, Twin Dragon in Boise.

On December 15th 2011, Quintana  released a letter to the board, volunteers and supporters of the organization announcing his resignation as executive director.

Quintana, who is moving from Boise to his new home in Chicago later this month, began the organization  in 2003 as a way to bridge the gap between the testing, services and education offered by the various agencies working with HIV and AIDS in Idaho.

Under his direction over the past eight years, a.l.p.h.a. has become the largest volunteer HIV and AIDS prevention program in the state. Quintana has also been involved in several other issues and organizations over the years including  serving as a board member for the Community Center as well as founding the recent Boise Loves anti-bullying campaign.

The event is a no host dinner. Following dinner guests are invited to cross the street where there will be karaoke  at the Lucky Dog  starting at 7pm.

Those planning on attending the event are asked to RSVP by no later than Friday, January 20th. Please send an email to kavin.dehner@alphaidaho.org or by confirming on the Facebook event pages HERE and HERE.

Twin Dragon is located at 2200 W Fairview Ave, in Boise.

You can learn more about a.l.p.h.a. by clicking HERE.

New Beginnings: a.l.p.h.a. Searches for New Executive Director

In 2003, a 24-year-old man from Wendell, Idaho set out to bridge the gap between the testing, services and education offered by the various agencies working with HIV and AIDS in Idaho.

Eight years later the outcome of his vision, Allies Linked for the Prevention of HIV and AIDS (a.l.p.h.a.), has become Idaho’s largest HIV and AIDS organization. Under Duane Quintana’s leadership the group has grown from just a small group of friends passing out condoms to bar patrons in downtown Boise to two staffed office locations in Boise and Twin Falls offering free testing, education and support, as well as a thrift store and numerous outreach activities throughout the state.

It’s impossible to say how many lives Quintana has touched over the years, not only through a.l.p.h.a., but through his many other interests and activities as well.

As rewarding as watching the organization growth has been, Quintana, now 32, is ready to begin a new life of his own. On December 15th 2011, Quintana  released a letter to the board, volunteers and supporters of the organization announcing his resignation as executive director. “This opportunity has been a gift, a gift that has just kept giving over the last almost 9 years now and I have been honored and humbled by the role I got to play in this organization,” wrote Quintana.

A few days later, on December 21st, the organization’s advisory board announced that it had begun to search for a new Executive Director.

Quintana, who plans on moving from Boise to his new home in Chicago later this month, writes that he has “the utmost faith and confidence in the board, the community at large and all those involved in a.l.p.h.a. now and in the future to continue to help a.l.p.h.a. better understand and be what it needs to be to support and respond to those at risk of, infected and affected by HIV, AIDS and the issues that impact the people involved.”

a.l.p.h.a.’s volunteers and staff say thanks to the advisory board’s leadership, they don’t anticipate any immediate changes in the day-to-day operations of the organization.

A “Good Luck!” party for Quintana will be held at the Twin Dragon Chinese Restaurant in Boise on Saturday, January 21st starting at 5:30 pm with a karaoke party following immediately after across the street at the Lucky Dog Bar. The event is open to the public. (Click HERE For More Information.)

You can learn more about a.l.p.h.a.’s Executive Director position by CLICKING HERE. Hurry though, resumes and or applications should be submitted by Friday January 7th, 2011.

Click HERE to learn more about this amazing organization.

Study: Alcohol Leads to Sloppy Sex and Poor Choices

So they aren’t the most shocking study results, after all most of us have  had the drunken one night stand experience at least once. You wake up, wonder who in the heck is lying next to you and then the whole night comes flooding back as you slowly try to inch your way out the door.

According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, Canada, however, there’s more to consider then just waking up  next to “Bad Breath Larry”.  According to the study, the more alcohol a person consumes, the more likely they are to have unprotected sex.

HIV Plus Magazine reports that,”Researchers found that an 0.1 mg/mL increase in blood alcohol levels raised the likelihood of engaging in risky sexual behavior by five percent. ”

That means if your a female it will only take about four drinks, or five if your a male, before you forget everything you’ve learned about HIV and STIs and say screw it..lets just screw.

Of course, some of the side effects from such actions are hangovers, a burning sensation when urinating, or a white, yellow, or green discharge from the penis, and or the transmission of HIV.

“Since alcohol abuse is one of the leading factors in HIV transmission, lead author Juergen Rehm said HIV prevention programs should put additional focus on reducing heavy drinking,” reports the magazine.

If you do suspect you have been exposed to HIV or any other STI, contact your physician as soon as possible. In Idaho, you can also get a free HIV test at your local a.l.p.h.a. office or call your local health department for more information.

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