A Chase Brexton employee and patients speak to The Real News about the importance of the clinic to the LGBT community
Guests in order of introduction:
JAISAL NOOR, PRODUCER, TRNN: Patients at a Baltimore clinic serving many low-income and LGBQT residents are rallying in Baltimore to protest recent firings of several workers who are working to organize. More than 1,300 people have signed a petition calling for Chase Brexton to stop unionbusting and to rehire the fired employees, saying, quote,
The workers are organizing against poor working conditions and policies that threaten patient care. As those patients, we are outraged that the people we depend upon to keep us healthy are being treated in such detrimental ways. Well, now joining us to discuss this are our three guests. We’re joined by Kate Bruce. She’s a former patient at Chase Brexton. She left when her nurse practitioner was fired for union organizing. She works at a local community college where she’s a member of their union. We’re also joined by Ken Jiretsu, who’s a current patient at Chase Brexton, a member of the leadership team of the Baltimore Transgender Alliance and the Black Transmen Inc. And also Jasmine Pope. She currently works at Chase Brexton as an outreach case manager. Thanks so much for joining us. JASMINE POPE, OUTREACH CASE MANAGER, CHASE BREXTON HEALTH CARE: Thank you. NOOR: So we want to start with Jasmine. So Chase Brexton, we invited them on to be part of this conversation. They didn’t respond to us. And they have been quiet about this over the last several weeks since the firings. But they did send us a statement just a few hours ago. They said:
While our organization has admittedly gone through a period of rapid change in order to ensure our long-term viability, we recognize we have not communicated as effectively as we could have through the process. Trust is critical for our relationships with the people we value most, including employees, providers, and patients, and we want to work to reestablish it. The statement went on:
We do not believe the SEIU is the right long-term solution for Chase Brexton. Union representation will have unintended consequences for our employees, providers, patients and the community we serve. That’s the union that the workers are going to be voting, in just a few days, whether to unionize or not. So let’s start off by getting your response to that statement. Five of your colleagues have been fired for allegedly working to unionize. POPE: I think one myth that I want to dispel is that as providers, as direct-care providers, we don’t have some kind of fantasy that the landscape of health care isn’t changing. The way that organizations, particularly federally qualified health care centers, are being paid and are able to keep their doors open is changing with the ACA. And it’s not bad. Change isn’t bad. And this isn’t a result of people saying change is bad and we want things to stay the same. It’s saying that change is necessary, but there is a proper and ethical way to do it. There’s a way to do it that we can still preserve patient care, to still preserve the well-being of our employees, and to still preserve the spirit of Chase Brexton. And in terms of communication, that’s been an ongoing conversation for several years. And communication is hard for anyone. If you’re in a relationship with anyone–friend, partner, whatever–it’s hard to communicate. But this isn’t a result of terrible communication. This is a result of providers and employees saying over a course of time that expands three years that the way things are happening isn’t beneficial to the care of our patients. And we want to be able to have a say in what’s happening. People who don’t see patients make decisions that are beneficial for the organization because that’s their job. But the people that see the patients see what is happening in the community and know what their limitations are in terms of meeting patient needs. And when those two things don’t work together, then we need to come to an agreement. And over several years an agreement hasn’t happened. And so we decided to organize so that we would have a voice to have a say in the care that our patients receive. NOOR: And why is it important for you to join a union? Because Chase Brexton doesn’t feel a union is the best move. POPE: Right. So we decided to organize so that we would have a voice at the table when these decisions are being made. If Chase Brexton doesn’t think that the employees should be in a union, that’s perfectly fine. That’s OK. And no one is saying that Chase should agree that we need to organize. No one’s saying that. But it is the right of the people to organize. And when you utilize tactics to intimidate people by firing employees that have cumulatively over half a century of experience in trans care, in HIV care, in providing care to communities who do not normally receive this kind of care, we are able to assist with paying for medications. We are able to assist with transportation. We go into the jails and see people who are coming out to make sure they’re connected to care and to housing. There’s not a lot of organizations that can do that. And we do that because Chase is awesome. We have amazing donors. We have philanthropy that comes in the door. But if we don’t maintain that, then that’s going to go away. And if you don’t think that we should organize–and that’s fine–then we vote, and if people don’t think we should, then we don’t. But it is the right to organize. And when you use intimidation tactics, then that’s where it changes. If we could have just voted and made a decision about whether or not we unionize, then that’s fine. NOOR: Now, do you feel intimidated? Because you’re sitting here, you’re speaking, you’ve spoken out in social media. POPE: I think that that is a question that more so depends on the kind of person that you are. I am, when I leave here, going to the hospital to see my grandmother, who’s been in hospice for several months, but who will probably be passing away either tonight or in a few days. But she led a life that was probably not absent of fear. But I never saw it. She lived through times that I never had to live through. And I never saw fear in her. And am I worried that I could be fired because I’m sitting here? I don’t know. Maybe. But it doesn’t mean that my work in the community will stop. It doesn’t mean that I won’t be able to provide for my son. And those are the things that are important. You know, I often wonder how people find themselves on the wrong side of history. You know, when we look through our history books and everyone’s family says, “Oh, this person was so awesome,” but they were super racist, like, you wonder how people find themselves on the wrong side of history. And it’s those little microdecisions that people make that they don’t realize is affecting a whole community of people–patients and their children and a whole community of disenfranchised people that direct-care providers work diligently to bring into health care and to provide support. And I think that there are going to be people in this situation that look back and are disappointed in themselves because they’re on the wrong side of history. NOOR: Ken, I wanted to bring you in the conversation. You’re a current patient at Chase Brexton. KEN JIRETSU, CHASE BREXTON PATIENT: Mhm. And so is my son. NOOR: And so is your son. Your son’s provider was recently fired. JIRETSU: Yes. NOOR: And you’re also a leader with the Baltimore Transgender Alliance. And talk a little bit about the importance of Chase Brexton for you and the community. It started off serving the LGBT community, and that’s how it really grew. So that’s where its roots are. JIRETSU: Right. Right. From my understanding, Chase Brexton was started in a small basement and had flourished 30 years to what it is now, located on Charles Street. For myself, when I first attended the clinic, I attended for my son, who is special-needs, but he also trans-questioning. So my son was connected with Jill Crank, who was his provider at that moment (and will still in my heart be his provider). He took time to trust her, which is very important to me as a parent. When I decided to transition, I also saw her to begin my transition. So, for things to happen the way it did is a disservice not just to me as a parent, but to my child as well, who at his age, for our LGBT youth, it’s very hard for them to trust a lot of people. And to be able to trust your health care provider is very important, especially when you’re deciding to do something as big as transition. NOOR: And so Chase Brexton, they admitted they had not communicated as effectively as they could have, but they say they’re proud of their legacy of serving the LGBT community and they’re going to make sure that they remain committed to that. How do you respond to that? JIRETSU: Well, I think that they want to go back and speak to the community themselves and get their opinion on how well their service has been. Through the years we’ve had issues where we’ve had transgender individuals who were misgendered consistently. We’ve had situations where trying to get our medicine has been hard. You have a lot of staff there who is willing to help, but then you have a lot of staff who comes on board and is not trained and has to make sure that their training is mandatory, especially when dealing with our community. We find that we run into a lot of pushback from the clinic, especially in the past year. I’ve noticed that things have gone downhill. I’ve been at the clinic for about, well, two years now, and I’ve seen a decline in service. NOOR: So, Kate, you were a former patient of Chase Brexton. Talk about why you left. And also talk about the work that patients like yourself have been doing in support of the workers that are there and have been fired. KATE BRUCE, FORMER PATIENT, CHASE BREXTON: OK. So, up until a couple of days ago, I was a patient at Chase Brexton. Jill Crank was my provider for over six or seven years. When I first started going there, I was very low-income. At times I was, like, basically couch surfing. You know? And now that I’ve grown up and been able to provide for myself better, I have the means and the right kind of health insurance (quote-unquote) to go to different doctors. So many people are–I won’t say “stuck” at Chase Brexton. We’ve loved Chase Brexton. But they can’t go anywhere else, because of their medical assistance and whatnot, and get the kind of service the Chase Brexton will provide to LGBT people. I can do that. And since I can do that, I’m leaving them until they hire back Jill. She’s been there for me when I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She’s been there for me when my wife became my husband, when he transitioned. When I heard that news at work, I was just crying at my desk. Like, I couldn’t–I got the phone call, “We want to reschedule you,” and I went off. I was like, I know what this is; Jill’s such a good person; she had to be part of the union organizing. So I looked on Facebook. Who’s protesting? Somebody has to. No one’s protesting? OK, then I’m going to make this page and see what happens. I hoped maybe, like, ten people would show up. Hundreds of people have responded. NOOR: Over 1,300 people have signed the petition as well. BRUCE: Over 1,300 people have signed that petition that was put out by someone else (I’m not sure their name), and over 1,700 people have been invited to the protest on the Facebook event page. NOOR: Which is happening Friday. BRUCE: Yes, that’s happening tomorrow. We’re goint to start at 4:30. Five o’clock we’re going to have guest speakers (self included), some politicians, relatively famous people. We want to go out there and stand up for our providers. I don’t personally know the other four that were let go, but I know they made a huge impact on this community. So we need to be there for them. They’ve been there for us. We have to stand by them. NOOR: And finally, Jasmine, what does it mean that there’s been such a huge outpouring of support from the community? People are going to be rallying outside. We heard word that the appointments from four o’clock onwards have been canceled, and now there’s construction outside of Chase Brexton right now where the protest is going to be. So that seems to be their response beyond this message they’ve given you. POPE: I will say from not only myself but from everyone else, including Jill, including everyone that’s been following this that continue to work at Chase, it means more than words can say that you will have rallied the petition, the comments under the petition, the post on Facebook. It’s not the goal to tear Chase Brexton down. The goal is to provide testimonies about how important Chase has been in the community and how important it is for Chase to continue doing what we’re doing at the highest level that we can, and to know that our patients recognize it as providers that that is our goal, that our goal is always to make sure that you’re OK, that you’re getting the care that you deserve, that it’s affirming care, that it’s providers that you can be comfortable with, not only for yourself but for your children. School is starting. You know, like, it means the world to us. And we still walk these halls at Chase, and there’s still a certain spirit in the air. But there are times when we go and we just look at the posts that patients put up and we say, this is why, this is why we decided to put our livelihood at risk, our careers possibly, when we saw our colleagues terminated without any substantial or logical reasoning. And we say, you know what? We’re not intimidated; we’re going to fight on. And we’re fighting on because of the comments that are under those petitions, because of the rally that’s happening, and we’re emboldened by that. And so thank you, thank you to both of you for participating in just making sure that we have a right to at least vote. You know? It doesn’t matter where you stand on the union, but we should at least have a right to vote on whether or not we do this without being intimidated with firings of providers that have provided life-saving care to the community in Baltimore. So thank you both. NOOR: Well, we’re going to be following this story. We’re going to be at the rally tomorrow. And then we’re going to be following, in the upcoming days–the vote is just a few days away, so we’re definitely going to be following that. And we’ll be definitely following up with all of you. Thank you all for joining us. POPE: Thanks. JIRETSU: No problem. Thank you. BRUCE: Thank you. POPE: Thank you. NOOR: Thank you for joining us at The Real News Network.