Five Years as a Persad Client

Five years ago today, I began working with the team at Persad Center as a clinical client in addition to my existing community collaborations.

Anticipating that things could get complicated by mixing clinical with community, I had resisted this relationship as long as possible. But finding a LGBTQ competent treatment team including a psychistrist had become untenable. The final straw came when Dr. Jurzcak left the country for several weeks with no coverage and without informing me or my therapist. Of course something went wrong with my prescriptions. It was only the fact that I had been with my then-therapist for 10 years that my then-PCP was willing to help.

I couldn’t go through that again, on top of the myriad of indignities and traumas I had previously experienced in the system. I decided that going into a clinic setting would give me a safety net, doctors covering for one another, etc.

My first two assigned therapists left the agency within a month, but the pdoc seemed stable. My next therapist was very nice, but not well versed in my diagnosis. Still I stayed with her for over a year. I then worked with someone else I liked who left after 6 months. Then I was working with the clinical director while they waited to reassign me. Then I was paired with Heather who was fantastic. I asked her at every session when she was leaving. A year later, she informed me she planned to depart.

I was reassigned, liked my new therapist and then realized she was a smoker which would not work with my asthma. Again reassigned, my next therapist was often sleepy and then defended rightwing Christians.

Then I ended up with my current therapist who specializes in trauma. I don’t ask her when shes leaving. Why jinx it?

I have bounced a little between the psychiatrists, but more so for scheduling reasons than anything else. There’s been a bit of turnover, but it isn’t turnover I have to worry about – they simply inform me when there’s a new doctor on staff. I don’t have to deal with insurance, new contact information, etc. For the most part, they seem to be up to speed on my case file pretty quickly.

It hasn’t been perfect. Psychiattists who have multiple offices can be hard to track down for the pharmacies. It would be ideal if Persad had a psychiatric nurse or social worker who could manage some of the myriad of calls and complications that inevitably arise – someone with legal authority to contact a pharmacy with the authority of the doctor.

The turnover, while expected, takes a toll. Their caseloads are huge and the leadership challenges are felt on all levels. Anyone listening in the waiting room, the hallway, paying attention to social media, and elsewhere knows that the board, leadership and staff have been out of step for awhile now. They know it, too.

It has been occasionally awkward being part of the community work and a clinical patient. I don’t think the current mid-management has mastered the nuances of that distinction, for example – last year, someone posted an article about me from the Post-Gazette in their staff break room. While I’m sure it was well-intended, it was completely inappropriate for a client. When I voiced my concerns, I didn’t have a sense that they are staying on top of this critical boundary. I had the sense that my concerns were considered an overreaction and this is a problem.

I’m also concerned that Persad works with colleges and universities that a clear anti-LGBTQ bias and agenda – including Geneva, Grove City, and Liberty University and Liberty University Online. This is a systemic issue that the Board and eventual new leadership will have to address as ‘religious liberty’ continues to target our rights and safety.

Representation is another challenge for Persad, but I have seen significant growth in recent years. The current acting ED is Latinx while (at least) three supervisors are trans and there is more representation of QTPOC. The board has a lot of work to do in this regard.

Persad’s role among community organizations has lost some luster. Their dependence on the Delta Foundation and Central Outreach Wellness is out of balance with the actual resources in the community – there used to be more of a presence from PATF (now known as Allies for Health + Wellness) and Metro Family Practice as well as mainstream community orgs that are vital to the welfare of the LGBTQ community. That’s a battle that will take years to wage, but it does spill into the waiting room. Persad should be the the keystone organization, balancing out the tensions and alliances in the community, serving as a ballast when things lean too far in any one direction, holding us all accountable for community building. They’ve stumbled out of that role in recent years and it is harmful for everyone.

I’m far from the only person on both sides of the programmatic aisle. I still choose Persad because it is important and because I have faith the organization can set things right. And, if I’m being honest, because my choices are limited – finding LGBTQ culturally competent clinical care with access to a psychiatrist is nearly impossible even with all of the privileges of insurance and transportation and so forth.

There’s a lesson to be learned from Persad that many young leaders don’t acknowledge – the lesson of longevity, of resiliance, of our institutional history. I think of the audacity it required to launch a queer mental health center in 1972 (I was a toddler) in Pittsburgh. I sometimes sit in the waiting room and think of how much audacity it takes to simply be there today.

I am grateful for Persad, weaknesses and all.