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David Ernesto Munar

Our annual meeting is a chance for us to reflect on Howard Brown Health’s mission and purpose, celebrate our recent efforts, and recommit to health equity, social justice, and LGBTQ liberation.

As a safety-net provider and queer organization, Howard Brown faces many challenges, all of which are heightened by our country’s current political climate. And our patients feel it too and report greater stress and uncertainty about their safety, security, and future.

Thankfully, our community is no stranger to adversity – we meet each challenge with tenacity and determination. We are strengthened by the incredible community propelling us.

I can’t thank enough our fabulous partners, many in the room tonight, including TPAN, Thresholds, the University of Chicago, Gerber-Hart Library and Archives, Project Vida, Legal Council, Chicago House, La Casa Norte, AIDS Foundation of Chicago, Chicago Black Gay Men’s Caucus, Advocate Illinois Masonic, Cook County Health, and many others. Partners, thank you so much!

My thanks to the hard working Board of Directors and members of our Community Advisory Boards. Heartfelt thanks to our incredible patients, who entrust us to serve as their partners in health, and the many dedicated volunteers and generous donors who embrace and champion our mission.

Last but not least, huge thanks to the nearly 500 talented and hard-working employees advancing our mission at 15 locations citywide – this includes the many staff members in the room, as well as those who are hard at work right now, staffing our resale stores and evening clinics!

In 2018 we made enormous strides in every facet of our organization. I’m particularly proud of our efforts to strengthen access to behavioral health care, because emotional and mental wellness are as critical to well-being as physical health.

Last year we opened the Counseling Center adjacent to our Sheridan Road clinic to give our north side patients a more serene setting in which to receive individual and group therapy.

On the south side, we joined forces with Thresholds, the state’s largest provider of behavioral health, to open a new clinic in the Back of the Yards neighborhood. The new site at 47th and Halsted provides primary care and enhanced access to psychiatry – a vital service line we have also expanded to several other locations.

In order to deliver comprehensive care, we expanded our approach at each of our 10 medical clinics to include behavioral health specialists as part of each clinical team. Working alongside our medical providers, behavioral health consultants help assess patient need, link patients to more intensive behavioral health services they may need, and conduct short coaching sessions about treatment follow-up. They are a vital part of our integrated approach to healthcare.

In another move to make our model more comprehensive, we celebrated in December 2018 our first full-year providing oral health care services at our new dental clinic in Englewood. We provided more than 1,300 dental encounters to more than 500 patients. In 2019, we are on track to serve more than 1000 patients!

Last year, we also served nearly 400 survivors of sexual assault as part of our pioneering in.power program, which helps sexual assault survivors to access domestic violence support systems, housing, legal aid, counseling, medical, and other essential services. Our program is the only one of its kind in the nation, focusing on LGBTQ people who survive sexual violence and serving them in a community healthcare setting.

The list of service-level improvements made in 2018 goes on and on. As the depth of our services has grown, so has our vibrant network. Having expanded to 10 community clinics in 2018, we spent last year building the capabilities at each place where we provide services.

We now offer our affirming and non-judgmental approach to healthcare in seven communities: Back of the Yards, Edgewater, Englewood, Hyde Park, Lakeview, Rogers Park, and Uptown. And beginning next month, Howard Brown will open its eleventh clinic in the Humboldt Park neighborhood, in partnership with La Casa Norte, a citywide housing provider.

Our 2019 Annual Meeting theme is “Connecting the Dots.” If you’re a visual person like I am, a map of the 20 miles we span as an agency might come to mind. But beyond the distances traveled between our sites, our geographic diversity honors the multiple dimensions and varied experiences of the people we serve.

Our patients are not one thing – they are not just their gender, age, or race. We ardently believe that all the unique and beautiful elements of their identities matter and must be honored and nourished.

By expanding our territory, Howard Brown is able to make care more accessible and more reflective of the intersectional identities of our patients. This is a chief reason why we have made geographic diversity a priority, because it makes us a more genuine reflection of the vibrant and rich experiences shaping LGBTQ life in America.

Our pursuit of geographic diversity has influenced Howard Brown as an advocate, employer, and community leader. In the past four years we have tripled the number of patients of color who seek our care, and half of our workforce is comprised of people of color. South side and West side patients have increased by 15 to 20% year-over-year. And we are so proud that the staff opening our new location in Humboldt Park are 100% bilingual and bicultural.

At Howard Brown, the pursuit of greater diversity and inclusion is treated as a journey rather than a destination. While we have made important strides, our work reflecting the community is never truly done.

Drawing upon patient and client wisdom, we now offer sexual health walk-in services at three locations in Uptown, Rogers Park, and Englewood. The Broadway Youth Center (BYC) also offers full spectrum screening and family planning services without an appointment for young people ages 13 to 24.

Last year, BYC’s VOICES program launched a weekly drop-in night in the Ashburn neighborhood on Chicago’s Southwest side. The program promotes HIV prevention among transgender and gender nonconforming (TGNC) young people and their partners.

To help make screening more routine and less stigmatizing, we are launching an express STI screening program later this year. Look out for us at the corner of 55th Street and Lake Park, in the building where our Hyde Park clinic is located. We are launching a similar program at our Brown Elephant store in Oak Park.

Last year patient voices also led to the formation of our TGNC surgical navigation program, which was launched in response to the needs of patients seeking surgical procedures as part of their gender transition. In the first six months, our peer navigators helped dozens of patients prepare for surgical care, offering assistance obtaining specialty referrals and helping navigate patients through complex insurance bureaucracies.

A commitment to whole-person care requires nimble and innovative responses to meet patients where they are and on their own terms in pursuit of health and wellness.

Our hepatitis program grew in response to community needs for assistance gaining access to vital but expensive cure treatments. Case managers are key to the program. They help patients navigate insurance and obtain specialty consultations, support services, and–when covered–treatments for this viral infection, which attacks the liver.

To enhance care access, Howard Brown now offers on-site imaging services to track the liver function of patients living with hepatitis C. Imaging results help patients and clinicians prioritize treatment initiation. Providing imaging in-house reduces gaps in care that might otherwise result waiting for imaging referral at area hospitals.

Our mission in health equity is far from over and we are counting on everyone in this room, and beyond, to help us realize a world where the health and wellness of LGBTQ people is affirmed with healthcare as a human right; where progressive social policy and enlightened societal norms uplift the lives of LGBTQ people and our families; and where affordable, accessible and culturally competent care from non-judgmental healthcare professionals is available and provided to all who seek it.