Sunday, August 7

“Just show up!” – A new LGBTQ+ wellness center (welcoming walk-ins!) set to open in central Ohio…with familiar faces

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The healthcare landscape of central Ohio is about to see a major new addition with the announcement of a new LGBTQ+ wellness center opening on August 15. 

But though the Central Outreach Wellness Center may be new to Columbus, LGBTQ+ clients will most definitely see some familiar faces. 

Well-known nurse-practitioner Mimi Rivard, former director of gender-affirming care at Equitas Health, will be helming operations. She will be joined by Dr. Ryan Hanson and nurse practitioners Karin Anderson and Tara Doland, all formerly of Equitas. 

The Wellness Center will offer STI, HIV, and Hep C testing; the cure for Hep C; HIV positive care; transgender healthcare; primary care; personalized pharmacy services and discounts; and laser hair removal. Unlike other healthcare providers, walk-in patients are welcome daily. No insurance is necessary for service at Central Outreach.

The Buckeye Flame spoke with Rivard about the new wellness center and what this host of new options represents for the central Ohio LGBTQ+ community.

Before we talk about the new healthcare center, What brings you to this work?
That’s a really good question. I’ve been doing it for so long that I really don’t think about it often because this work feels intrinsically part of who I am.

I grew up in a really blue-collar city in Connecticut called Waterbury and we had a really high rate of AIDS in 1988-1989. I think we were 3rd per capita in the country at that point.

Mimi Rivard (Photo Credit: Sérah Staley Munroe)

For nursing, I went to to a hospital-based school and worked on a cancer unit right there in Waterbury. I saw lots of people coming in with AIDS into the hospital. It was at that time when universal precautions had just come onto the scene, so the older nurses weren’t used to wearing gloves. There was pushback about taking care of people with AIDS.

That had to have been quite an experience.
It was. And that started my curiosity. AIDS felt like something that was going to be big and there were not a lot of people who wanted to participate in the care. It really galvanized and shaped the entirety of my nursing career.

When I decided to become a nurse practitioner, I moved to Boston, and there was a clinical internship offered with an AIDS home-care group. I thought, “I could do this,”  but I wasn’t exactly an academic wonder. So I thought it was going to be challenging to get that internship. I remember kind of sheepishly walking into the office at the college. And I made my case based on my experience.

They were like, “You want that internship? No one wants that. You can have it.”

It all went from there. It was really where I came from, my age, and my interest in working with people who were struggling. I’ve always felt like if you can do something, you probably should.

Do any of those early cases jump to your mind?
Absolutely. The first person I cared for who had AIDS was 4-years-old. She had cerebral palsy and she was all alone in her crib. The nursing students cleaned her up and humanized her, played with her and carried her around the unit.

And it was kind of shocking to the other nurses to see this group of young kids from that city do such hands-on work. I think they felt a little embarrassed that they hadn’t.

This clearly affected you personally as well as professionally.
It did. The history of the disease and my history are so interwoven throughout my life. I lost one of my closest friends in 1994 and my husband lost a few close people that same year.

I think it was a time when people that were involved in this work really held on tightly to each other to provide that strength for each other. It strengthened our commitment to the work but also formed these intense and close relationships. We had our hands in death all the time. It changes you. It helps you see what’s important and it helps crystallize your values. It makes it easier to continue to do this work.

Flash forward: you could just keep doing what you’ve been doing, but instead you decided to challenge yourself and do something new. Why this new set of services and why now?
I think that one of the things that really drove me to start this new venture was the gaps that I have seen in the care. I like to work from the most marginalized folks inward. I think there is a certain segment of the population in Ohio that we’re not capturing in our current healthcare structures.

Those are the folks who need us. We talk about “ending the epidemic.” I don’t know that we can end the epidemic without real-time access to testing and treatment. That’s missing in our geographic area.

I wanted to create a space where people who live in real time, whether that’s based on the fact that they don’t get their work schedule before the week begins, or they’re struggling with houselessness, or in and out of town possibly doing sex work, or dealing with mental health concerns. We’ve always talked about meeting people where they at, so this would provide real-time care when the patient can access it. Access is the big driver here.

So this would be trying something new.
I mean, why not try something new? I’ve been doing this work since 1988 and I’ve always fantasized about starting up something with a group of like-minded individuals and driving forward, really thinking about novel ways and ways where we know what works and what we can do as healthcare providers. But ultimately people have to come to us. If people do have to come to us, they can come whenever they feel like it.

Let’s let them come when they want to come, when it’s convenient for them, and let us welcome them with open arms and say, “Today is a great day to get tested for STI’s. Today’s a great day to start hormones. Today is a great day to start your HIV treatment plan. And come back when you can. We’re here for you.”

We’ve heard from the community from years, “I’m sick and I can’t get in. I don’t have my work schedule. I missed my appointment and I can’t get back in for three months.” Walk-In. Just show up. We’ll be here for you.

And I get to do this with clinicians I really love and respect with the full support and backing of Central Outreach and Wellness. How do you not do that?

You do it.
You do it!

I’m terrified, don’t get me wrong. I’m absolutely terrified because the community really respects me, shows up for me, and holds me dearly. And I don’t want to let them down. These are the things that are waking me up in the middle of the night. How am I going to actually do this? But I have to try and I have to be there for the folks who have been there for me. I don’t want to let my people down.

Some would argue if it’s not keeping you up at night, it’s not worth doing.
I know! Some of my friends have said, “You’re 55 years old. You’re opening a clinic? Now?” The fact is, I’m not ready to get off the field and get off the bench. I’m bringing in some really great people to succeed me in this. I have the energy. I have the desire to give people what they’ve been asking me for. I want it to be that we did this all together. We cannot do this without the support of the community.

How political would you say this work is right now?
We live in this culture where it feels like people’s humanity has become political. I do feel like unfortunately our government officials try to legislate ethics. When you try to legislate someone’s humanity, autonomy, dignity, and basic human rights, this all becomes very political. We have to stand up and be brave and provide the kinds of services people need no matter what the political landscape might be.

I worked during the Regan era…

You’re used to this!
I certainly am. Things wax and wane over time. What makes it feel especially pertinent right now are the real granular efforts of folks that want to marginalize people via school boards and local civic organizations, these radicalized people who are looking for others to scapegoat and distract from the common issues of the day. It feels scary. It feels a lot like the 80s. I’m looking for the next Larry Kramer to step into the fore.

We have a lot of really great social activism in this state. But somebody has to take care of people. And given the Ohio legislation and given the Supreme Court, we’re headed into the storm and we have to be that port. Healthcare has to be that port. 🔥

Ignite Action:

  • Visit Central Outreach Columbus at 2680 W Broad Street, Columbus, Ohio 42304. Call the office at (614) 360-2900, or visit CentralOutreach.com for more details. They will begin to see patients on August 15 and appointments are available to schedule now.

About Author

Ken Schneck is the Editor of The Buckeye Flame. He received the 2021 Sarah Pettit Memorial Award for the LGBTQ Journalist of the Year from the NLGJA: The Association of LGBTQ Journalists. He is the author of "Seriously, What Am I Doing Here? The Adventures of a Wondering and Wandering Gay Jew" (2017), "LGBTQ Cleveland" (2018), "LGBTQ Columbus" (2019), and "LGBTQ Cincinnati" (2020). In his spare time, he is a professor of education at Baldwin Wallace University.

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