APHA interviews Shemeka Hamlin-Palmer, PhD, of Open Arms Healthcare Center

APHA interviews Shemeka Hamlin-Palmer, PhD, of Open Arms Healthcare Center


Interviewer: Why was there such a need for
an LGBT clinic in Mississippi? Hamlin-Palmer: Well we found the need to be
that a lot of the population did not have the services available to them because they
had physicians that were not competent to deal with the problems that they had, or the
physicians that were uncomfortable with providing the services, such as the anal pap, and just
being able to talk to them about overall health because they didn’t have the understanding
of how to do it. So we saw that the need was that they were not accessing the care like
they needed to because we had a lot of them that used to come prior to us opening the
health center and we were providing the outreach in the communities. That was one of the things
they said, ‘Why don’t you all open a health care center where we could come in, and have
physicians and nurses and mental health specialists that can actually provide the services that
we need and understand us, and you know, that are comfortable with talking to us.’ Interviewer: What were some of the challenges
in getting the clinic off the ground? Hamlin-Palmer: The challenges for getting
the clinic off the ground, we didn’t have any funding. And a lot of the money came from
just our president and CEO Dr. (June) Gipson just pulling general funds from the organization
and just putting it in place to make sure we had those services available to provide
services to the clinic. So the main thing was just to fund it and we also figured out
that the transportation was an issue so she provided free transportation to, you know,
for the LGBT community. So if they need to come in for health care they had that service
available. Interviewer: What are some examples of the
services that you provide at Open Arms? Hamlin-Palmer: Services that we provide at
Open Arms, we do provide medical care as well as preventive services. We do anal pap, we
do STD screenings, HIV testing, we have support groups for positive MSMs. Support groups for
positive women. We have support groups for transgenders. We have a food and clothing
pantry available. We have mental health services. Like I said, we have transportation. And just
any service that we see that the population needs. If we don’t have that particular
service available, we have a referral network and sometimes they will actually come into
the health care center and provide those services to the population. Interviewer: What feedback have you received
from the LGBT community since the clinic opened in February? Hamlin-Palmer: The feedback we received has
been nothing but great. They’re seeing that they’re so happy that were there and provide
the services that catered to their needs. We have a large population of patients that
coming in. So we’ve had nothing but great success. Interviewer: Why is identifying this need
in Mississippi so important to public health? Hamlin-Palmer: Well when you see the alarming
HIV/AIDS rate among the MSM and African American population, that shows that it’s a great
need. So we’ve identified that. Because we’ve been working in the public health
field. MBK has been here since 2000 so we’ve done a lot of work and in doing all that work
we’ve found that there’s a great need for the services we’re giving to the community. Interviewer: Last question, what are your
hopes for the future for this clinic? Hamlin-Palmer: Well our hopes are to continue
to do the work we’re doing. Just get bigger and greater at it. And actually provide the
services in a meaningful way and just make sure that we’re there and visible within
the LGBT community. Interviewer: Thank you so much for taking
out the time to talk. I really appreciate it. Hamlin-Palmer: You’re more than welcome.

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