By Greg Hernandez
As a graphic artist with the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Marketing & Communications team, Takashi Sato usually spends most of his workday behind a computer designing marketing materials.
But during the coronavirus outbreak, Sato is one of the Center employees voluntarily spending part of their workdays at the McDonald/Wright Building, helping to screen Center staff and clients who access the Center’s health clinic and full-scale pharmacy for COVID-19. The Center is one of the few Federally Qualified Health Centers with providers who specialize in primary care for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and people living with HIV.
“I am an introvert, so I generally don’t feel too comfortable with interacting with many different people whom I don’t know,” admits Sato. “But, the experience has been very rewarding because I can help colleagues and clients, even though the help I provide is very small and limited.”
Screeners like Sato have voluntarily redeployed from other Center departments to help so Health Services staffers can stay at their posts. Screeners ask each visitor, upon entering the lobby, a series of questions about their health, such as “Have you recently experienced a cough? Shortness of breath? Headache?” and “Have you knowingly had contact with anyone who has tested positive for coronavirus?”
A Health Services team member then checks each person’s temperature before allowing them to begin their shift, pick up a prescription, or go upstairs for an appointment.
The purpose of the screenings is to determine if people are experiencing symptoms similar to those of Coronavirus disease (COVID-19). If they have symptoms, they meet with a triage nurse who continues the screening and determines if the person needs further testing.
“I signed up for clinic hours because it’s a way for me to help during this time,” explains Christie Gilmore, special events manager for AIDS/LifeCycle. “I have formed mini bonding interactions with a few clients waiting in line for the pharmacy. As they leave, we both nod in acknowledgment that we were connected—even if for 30 minutes—by some sort of human connection. You see the diversity coming through the door, and you see the hardships some clients are going through.”
Approximately 4,000 people obtain their prescriptions each month at the Center’s pharmacy.
“Standing in the lobby for hours gives you a better perspective just how busy our pharmacy is,” Gilmore says. “I am proud that our Center remains open during this critical time.”
Tanya Tassi, national community center policy manager for the Center’s Public Policy and Community Building department, has also worked several shifts. She was deeply moved when a man walked into the lobby one day carrying a plastic bag filled with surgical masks.
“He said the Center had done so much for him so he wanted to make sure the clinic staff had enough masks and was donating his supply,” Tassi recalls. “Knowing that the Center remains open is like a beacon of light during this uncertain time. It gives me a sense of pride. We’re on the front lines taking care of our community.”
Kurt Thomas, creative services manager for Marketing & Communications, has been working shifts at the clinic nearly every day, including some Saturdays.
“It’s important because we are a care facility, a service provider for the health and well-being of our community,” he points out. “Especially in this time, it’s really important for us to stay open and keep going. We were here from the beginning through the height of the AIDS epidemic, and this was a place where people who didn’t have insurance or have anywhere to go went to be taken care of. Now shouldn’t be any different.”
Another frequent volunteer has been Adam Bass, the donor services and finance specialist for AIDS/LifeCycle. He believes, more than ever, that the Center is a place people trust during good times and bad.
“We are a place where our community knows they won’t be judged and will be safe,” Bass says. “I wanted to do everything I could to make sure that we continue to be an effective provider of services for our community. It’s good to know so many people rely on the Center—and that the Center doesn’t disappoint them.”
For more information about the Center’s response to COVID-19 pandemic, including important protocols and procedures when visiting the Center’s health clinic, visit lalgbtcenter.org/updates.