Just over one year ago, I looked up at the discolored water oozing from the office ceiling and ducked to avoid hitting my head against a drenched ceiling tile ready to fall. The rancid smell of decades-old carpet, now soaked and even filthier, was a clear message that providing any medical care in that space would be impossible. Have asthma or allergies? Come on in—we’ll make you worse! I don’t know much about medical marketing, but if not abjectly unethical, it seemed a poor approach to providing care. I knew exactly how I needed to proceed: It was time to quit. What a relief.
In retrospect, it was pretty brazen to think I could open a solo family medicine practice to care for people the way I longed to: time enough for conversations, knowing well the people entrusting me with their care, keeping sensitive details disclosed in the sacred space of the exam room confidential. When I’d resigned in protest because of the way I’d been instructed to care for trans and non-binary people, it felt righteous and powerful. Now, in the hot and humid detritus of an old office building, I felt only disgust and defeat. My only concern at that point was how I was going to tell my fierce nursing colleague Melisa that she no longer had a job. She’d left a fine position with good benefits and delayed additional educational opportunities to join me in the dream of a small practice where people of all identities could feel heard and safe. I was reluctant to share my thinking, but she likely already knew.
That same day, having witnessed the devastation in the office, Candice and Nolen Layman started a crowd-funding effort to “protect LGBTQ+ Health.” Over $15,000 and some 70+ donors later, I asked them to put a hold on those fundraising efforts. People donated significant amounts. I knew some of them did so over other essential needs and myriad other deserving causes. If people were to give so generously, I wanted to make sure those donations were tax-deductible and avoid any potential appearance that I was pocketing those contributions.
After a routine office visit, a retired executive director taught me more about nonprofits and how one might work for a health care advocacy organization. Attorney Melissa Scholz, of Scholz Nonprofit Law tolerated my repeated questioning during a car ride to and from Chicago with our daughters. A remarkable group of individuals agreed to serve on the board of this fledgling startup, offering perspective and expertise. An anonymous benefactor who heard of the physical space debacle offered a donation to support the work and assist in securing new space.
Together, we created a mission: OUT HEALTH is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose mission is to improve the health of individuals identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning (LGBTQ+). OUT HEALTH recognizes the unique health needs of LGBTQ individuals and connects them with the most appropriate healthcare providers, resources, and events. OUT HEALTH strives to better educate health care professionals and the community at large regarding best practices for LGBTQ+ individuals.
One board member arranged coffee with a Madison Metropolitan School District advocate, myself, and someone I did not know: Joy Stieglitz. Director Lee Young knew Joy as a fierce ally who had outlined plans for a similar nonprofit advocacy organization to protect LGBTQ+ youth and their families. Three meetings and numerous discussions later, Joy signed on to be Out Health’s executive director and very first employee.
As I write this, I sit in Out Health’s new home. Though there is not yet a sign for our space at 5231 University Avenue, this is everyone’s space and everyone’s work. There are beautiful floor-to-ceiling windows with natural light. The rooms are airy and open with brand-new flooring, paint and ceilings. The exam rooms are exam rooms, but we’re told they feel more comfortable than most. No one—not even we healthcare professionals—like sitting in those rooms. Once it’s safe to do so again, there is space for groups to hang out, for volunteers to lend a hand, and for people to know that this is more than an office: This literally feels like safe space. This is your space. Thank you.
For now, the medical practice component of Out Health remains as “Oriel Medicine,” but over time, medical services will be provided through the nonprofit organization Out Health Inc. Staff are currently applying to different health care insurance providers to ask that those health care insurance companies cover medical services to be provided by Out Health. As Out Health obtains contracts with insurance providers, a list of those providers will be continuously updated on our website outhealth.org
All humans are welcome at Out Health Inc. As we get up and running, making Out Health your medical provider helps fund and support our other work.
Over the next few months, in the safest way possible given COVID concerns, we will enroll new patients and provide people with the medical care they deserve. To make a donation which furthers the mission of Out Health and supports the care of those who could not otherwise access it visit: outhealth.org/donate.
Board of Directors
Kathy Oriel, MD, President
Patricia Kehoe, CPA, Treasurer
Olivia Arndt, Secretary
Devyn Brown, RN, Director
Richard Kilmer, RPh, Director
Nolen Layman, Director
Anna Macgregor, Director
Matt Mason, Director
Michele Perreault, JD, Director
Elizabeth Poi, MD, Director
Tamara Packard, JD, Director
Lee Young, Director
Joy Stieglitz, Executive Director
Melisa Arndt, LPN