A clinic specializing in care to uninsured LGBT patients is the latest in SF to face closure
If Lyon-Martin closes, its patients will have to be transferred to other clinics, but there's high demand everywhere. Such an outcome might evoke a sense of dèjá vu for some. Last fall, when an LGBT-focused clinic called New Leaf shut down due to crippling financial problems, many of its clients were transferred to Lyon-Martin.
COMMUNITY SURPRISED, UPSET
The front office manager at Lyon-Martin, who wished to be identified only as Braz, said she'd had no warning that closure was imminent. "Just closing down like that seemed impossible. We couldn't ethically do that," she said. "Our patients are freaking out right now."
Once people became aware that the clinic was on the brink of closure, some aired the criticism that the board should have been more forthright about financial troubles. The Bay Area Reporter, a San Francisco publication covering LGBT issues, published an editorial calling for the resignation of the six-member board, and several sources told the Guardian they expected the board members to step down.
Meanwhile, health officials and elected representatives have stepped into the mix, but no promises of governmental financial assistance had been secured by the time the Guardian went to press.
Department of Public Health Director Barbara Garcia was unavailable for comment, but released a prepared statement: "The Department of Public Health has been in close discussions with Lyon-Martin and the pressing need to make immediate changes to the way they conduct their financial affairs. We value the important health care services they deliver and will continue to work with them to find the best long-term outcome for the clinic and the patients."
Sup. Scott Wiener told the Guardian that he'd been in discussions about Lyon-Martin with Garcia and Sup. David Campos. Sups. Ross Mirkarimi and Jane Kim also attended the emergency meeting, and California Sen. Mark Leno was said to be attempting to secure some state funding for the clinic. As the push to save the clinic continues, a parallel effort is moving forward to craft a contingency plan for how Lyon-Martin's nearly 2,500 patients can access care in the event that it doesn't survive.
Lyon-Martin patients and others familiar with its services stressed that the women's clinic is a critical resource for lesbians and the transgender population, because medical staff are trained in that specialized area of care.
"The service there is incredible," noted Cheryl Simas, who has been a patient there for three years. "They explain everything to you, you're listened to, and you're treated with care and respect." Simas said it was a dramatic difference from an experience she'd had in the mid-1990s, when her healthcare provider was barely comfortable pronouncing the word "lesbian."
Lyon-Martin medical staffers receive training on transgender patient care, and it even offers training in that realm for medical professionals from cities throughout the United States. "They are internationally renowned as a model for what it means to offer transgender care," noted labor organizer Gabriel Haaland, who said he was once denied health care due to his transgender identity. "The healthcare system is a fairly traumatic experience for most transgender people," he added.
If Lyon-Martin closed, "it'd be pretty tragic," noted Carlina Hansen, executive director of the Women's Community Clinic, which works closely with Lyon-Martin. When it comes to health care, "We live in an unusual city, in that there is a lot of need among low-income people, due in part to a high cost of living. "Every clinic in San Francisco provides an integral part of that network," and each clinic fills a specific need, Hansen noted. "The diversity of the clinics matches the diversity of our community."