The Utah AIDS Foundation is rebranding and expanding into a full-service, LGBTQ-focused primary care clinic to help better meet the needs of queer patients.
The new “UAF Legacy Health” clinic will open in September and become the state’s first LGBTQ+ community health center, CEO Ahmer Afroz said. Its physicians will offer traditional care like any clinic would, and will also provide gender-affirming hormone therapy to patients with gender dysphoria, as well as offer pre-exposure prophylaxis, known as PrEP, which can reduce one’s chances of contracting HIV.
Previously, the foundation’s clinic simply provided testing for HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infections, and referred patients to outside clinicians for other services. Once the new clinic opens, it will continue its HIV/AIDS and STI testing and will provide other health care services in-house, alongside its support groups and mental health services.
Afroz said that the original intent of the Utah AIDS Foundation 40 years ago was more geared toward keeping people comfortable in the final stages of life, as there was no cure and no treatment available for HIV or AIDS.
“Now there are robust treatments for the prevention of HIV,” Afroz said. “What we see now is a need for more medical care as there are gaps in LGBTQ people and people with HIV accessing care.”
“Frankly, he said, there currently is a lack of competent providers” for the LGBTQ community, he said. “There are a lot of health disparities that impact the LGBTQ community. The health concerns that impact the community at a disproportionally high level are not being addressed properly. There is a lack of knowledge by health providers.”
“There is also a level of fear that LGBTQ patients visiting other healthcare providers experience, causing them not to ask questions, not address concerns about sensitive issues,” Afroz continued. “These fears are reinforced through actual negative experiences.”
The foundation has been planning to expand health care services for more than three years, Afroz said, following what AIDS service organizations have done in other states. The Salt Lake County Council allocated $2 million in its budget this year for the expansion.
Afroz said the clinic is undergoing “extensive renovations” to meet this goal and will include 10 exam rooms, five mental health therapy offices, and will employ three full-time providers, including Dr. Susana Keeshin, who will act as medical director, and Sally Bowen, a nurse practitioner. They are also being joined by Dr. Matt Brian, former associate director of LGBT health at Intermountain Health Care.
He added that the clinic aims to be paneled with as many insurance providers as it can, and would offer services to people without insurance.
Of the name change, Afroz said the Foundation was looking to honor its past and celebrate the next step in its services. He said that UAF Legacy Services honors everything that everyone who worked with the agency has done. It is also inclusive, protects someone’s identity, and is a safe space.
“Even in 2023, there is a stigma to the term AIDS, which keeps people from accessing our services,” Afroz explained.
The Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law recently found that Salt Lake City’s LGBTQ population are 125% more likely to be unemployed, 64% more likely to be uninsured, 120% more likely to experience food insecurity and 63% more likely to make less than $24,000 a year compared to the non-LGBTQ population.
The clinic began seeing patients for PrEP in June, and is set to open in September officially. Patients can begin making appointments in August, Afroz said. It will be located at the current Utah AIDS Foundation site: 150 S. 1000 East, suite #200, in Salt Lake City.