Last April, after spending four years in development, Prism Health opened their doors at 2236 SE Belmont. From stepping out of--or off of--your conveyance, or approaching from one of the nearby bus lines, you can tell this is not your ordinary health care office. The building is painted a vibrant indigo or purple. The logo, presented on its facade, is fresh and modern. It depicts a prism, projecting rainbows in a design very much in tune with current trends.
Upon entering, you’ll find the sleek design, comfortable, mid-century inspired furnishings, and original artwork suggest the lobby of a boutique hotel, or deluxe spa. Cascade AIDS Project (CAP) Executive Director Tyler TerMeer says this was the desired effect. They intended to create a place which felt like home.
The result is a full-service medical model, with integrated primary care. In fact, there are more than a dozen types of medical insurance accepted. Although they do offer STI screening through Pivot, to patients who might wish to make an appointment just for sexual health. Or, to check out their eligibility for PrEP.
“Prism Health was designed around two focus groups. We were looking at who currently was the most vulnerable in their health care experience,” TerMeer explained that ultimately the most vulnerable group within the LGBTQ+ community were identified as transgender women of color. Panelists were shown pictures of traditional, primary health care offices. Then more relaxing images of spas, mountain resorts, and even living rooms.
“We wanted to make sure we were building a practice that, from the name brand and atmosphere you encounter, that the experience would appeal to those with the highest barrier against receiving care. ”
Prism Health grew out of CAP, who recognized that in the current changing landscape of LGBTQ+ and HIV health care they needed to investigate ways in which to better serve the community. TerMeer broke it down into four goals which Prism wished to explore, and ultimately benefit patients with its current needs in mind.
- One, to ensure CAP through Prism would fill a gap or need in the community.
- Two, they were taking a natural progression which wasn’t too far from away from what the organization has been.
- Three, selecting a project which would create a new sense of earned income for the organization which didn’t rely heavily on government grants or contracts.
- Four, a program with incentives which held to the integrity of the original mission.
“So over the last four years we worked through a long, comprehensive business plan process to purchase a building, survey community about what their health care needs are, and what they would want a dedicated practice too look like,” CAP and TerMeer concluded. “We also spoke to LGBTQ+ providers about challenges they have had within their systems and what would make a strong, independent practice for the community. All of that resulted in a ribbon cutting last year. We saw our first patient on May 2nd of 2017. We are celebrating what has been a very successful year.”
TerMeer, who is unabashedly and rightfully proud of this project, does wish to remind the community that they are not the only organization providing LGBTQ+ health care in a safe space; what he called “safe care.” There are several providers in Portland.
“Prism exists to provide a safe, culturally affirming health care experience from the receptionist, through your medical appointment, through to billing on the opposite end,” he added. “It is easy-enough to find affirming, safe care but it’s often buried within a system or practice. The patient may be misgendered at reception, or the bill has your legal name, not the name you go by as part of your gender identity.”
With that in mind, Prism created an experience where everyone receives a baseline training in trauma-informed care to understand the unique health care needs of the community. Staff were trained in how to appropriately ask questions, and forms were designed for people in the community by asking questions of perspective clients of Prism. By the community, for the community.
“Ultimately, they wanted it not to feel too clinical,” and TerMeer added that Prism’s sensitivity training will be ongoing. Much like practitioners must go back for periodic updates in their health care education.
The organization plans to offer more gynecological care over the course of the summer, and an additional nurse practitioner. In sum, through the upcoming season they will grow to about 10 employees. Fortunately, the four years of planning have made for a very successful first year. TerMeer proudly says they have now seen 450 patients. This was all through word-of-mouth and social media. They wanted to see a natural growth rate among the community.
Now, they have expanded to a marketing campaign throughout Portland and the surrounding region. He excitedly told me about encountering an ad campaign they worked on with TriMet.
“I had an experience this this past week. I was standing on the side of the road, and for the first time I saw our bus ad,” said TerMeer, who has worked with HIV and queer health care for 15 years. “To be a gay man of color and see a bus stop at the light, then seeing two black, gay men embrace on side of bus with our Prism logo, celebrating LGBT love, and diversity, was a super-empowering moment for me.”
TerMeer showed me a series of small consulting rooms adjacent to a spacious conference room, in which a large image of the logo is painted on the wall. The rooms, which can be named after a donor or as a memorial to a loved one, are waiting to be filled with mental health care workers. The rooms are projected to be open for business this coming autumn, to expand upon their multi-directional prism of healing.
Visit Prism to learn about their current and expanding services. If you just wish to check out their stunning new facility, and learn more about them in general, they are celebrating their fist anniversary on Thursday, May 24th from 4:30 PM to 6:30 PM.