Will Pittsburgh’s LGBTQ Mental Health Center merge with a non-LGBTQ health organization?

I was informed today that Persad Center faces a dire choice due to finances – either merge with the much larger Allies for Health + Wellbeing (formerly known as the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force) or face potential closure altogether. Without any timeframe for this, I have to make immediate decisions about my mental health treatment since my Persad therapist is the only LGBTQ competent, EMDR certified provider in the region. It is unconscionable for Persad management to keep us in the dark – they know these constraints because I argue with them all of the time about the caseload issues in trying to access the appropriate number of therapy sessions I need. They know Plan B for those of us receiving trauma processing care is basically – nothing.

Allies notified their donors about this potential change in a letter dated November 26, 2019. Note this was before the Persad staff voted to unionize this past week. I don’t know why Allies would mention a collaboration that might involve shared programming unless they are building up to the potential for a merger.

The boards and executives of Allies and Persad have been talking about ways that we could better serve our community, increase our financial sustainability and maximize our resources. There are a number of possibilities to look at, from delivering services in each other’s space, to shared programming, up to and including some sort of merger.

Below that, I posted the most recent fundraising letter from Persad Board Chair and Delta Foundation Board member, Marty Healey. I’ve reached out to Persad and Allies for comment. I’m also shocked Persad has capacity to launch an IOP given the onerous caseloads of the current clinical staff and the lengthy waiting list.

Compare the letters for yourself and if you plan to make a year-end gift to Persad, maybe call Persad to ask about this truth bomb? Persad has allegedly sent an email to some donors, but not all and to no clients who are not also donors.

Allies may be a fine org, but losing LGBTQ control of our 47 year legacy is a very bad thing. Getting MH services from allies of any stripe is vastly different from being in a queer space for services. We the LGBTQ community deserve a lot of information and very soon.

I’ve been simplifying my relationship with Persad to just being a client. I terminated the fiscal sponsorship relationship, stopped fundraising, and no longer attend community events – all to preserve the sanctity and integrity of my mental health care. I can’t find the words to describe the chill in my heart at the prospect of losing our LGBTQ control of this vital service. I am also disgusted that clients (aka patients) are not among the first to know this is even on the table – this is about our lives.

Given Persad’s historical and recent conduct, is anyone really shocked? We’ll have more on this later. In the meantime, I urge you to contact both organizations and demand immediate public disclosure of their plans as well as scheduling public meetings in the immediate future to get community feedback.

What will it take to keep Persad Center in the control of the LGBTQ community?

Carlos Torres, Persad Center – [email protected]
Marty Healey, Persad Center – [email protected]
Sean DeYoung, Allies – [email protected]


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Subject: News from Allies for Health + Wellbeing
Reply-To: Sean DeYoung <[email protected]>
Dear Allies,

Over the past 34 years, Allies has strived to provide the best care and support for individuals living with or at risk of HIV/AIDS. We started with an information hotline, legal assistance, HIV education and testing, and practical and emotional support for individuals living with HIV/AIDS. But over the years we have changed and expanded to meet the changing needs of our community. Today, Allies provides integrated medical care, supportive human service and community-based education for those living with or at risk of HIV, viral hepatitis and sexually transmitted infection.

Tomorrow we want to do more. We believe that increasing our capacity to provide integrated care is our path to continued success. We are always looking for ways to better serve the community, which includes investigating potential strategic partnerships. Persad Center, which has a 48-year history of providing behavioral health, programs, community education, and support for the LGBTQ+ community is an obvious potential partner and we are currently looking into ways that we could collaborate with them.

The boards and executives of Allies and Persad have been talking about ways that we could better serve our community, increase our financial sustainability and maximize our resources. There are a number of possibilities to look at, from delivering services in each other’s space, to shared programming, up to and including some sort of merger.

We truly believe that a partnership will provide both organizations with the opportunity to expand (and therefore serve more people), enhance the sustainability of our organizations, and further our missions. We are in the preliminary phases of simply investigating what type of partnership, if any, makes sense. We anticipate that the investigatory phase will take several weeks to months, and we are not in any rush to make decisions. We are going to be thoughtful, strategic, and considerate of all our stakeholders, including our clients and the communities we serve, other possible consumers, staff, funders and donors.

We want to assure you that we see this as an opportunity for expansion – not contraction. We are committed to being transparent during this process, and we will keep you informed as we progress.

As we begin 2020, we will continue to provide quality services for our consumers and the greater community and keep moving forward together. Thank you, and happy Thanksgiving!

Sincerely,
Sean DeYoung
CEO, Allies for Health + Wellbeing

Persad Fundraising Letter

  • It sounds like Persad is in crisis mode (their M.O.?) and this merger might be the only way they see to be able to continue. I’m okay with that but they need to be able to support their clients through major changes to avoid people falling through the cracks like you said. I disagree that Allies isn’t an LGBT organization, though. Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force was an important fixture of the LGBT community and Allies, from how I see it, is a way they can reach even more people who need their services, regardless of the language they use to self-identify. How much of Persad’s staff and board ID as LGBT? Can that be compared to Allies’ staff and board identification? If both orgs are in a stable place and can provide much needed services to our community, it doesn’t matter as much to me what the configuration is.

    • Thanks for weighing in, Rayden. I disagree with you about the need to preserve a queer space and the status of Allies as a queer organization. But the concern here is that we have zero reason to believe this will improve the capacity of LGBTQ MH supports since the manner in which things are unfolding is just more of the same dysfunctional obfuscation that has plagued Persad for many years. My lack of confidence in the Board to lead the organization extends to a lack of faith in their capacity to navigate this with our interests as the priority. Here’s hoping they prove me wrong.

  • I stand with Persad counselors who chose to unionize. I have been on Persad’s referral list of licensed professional counselors for more than ten years. However, I’ve only received two referrals from Persad in all that time. While Persad’s waiting lists get longer and longer, competent professionals like I am are not being utilized. In the past I referred friends to Persad Center because I am not ethically able to see them myself, and they waited for many months to get much-needed care. For the record, I am an experienced EMDR practitioner as well. It is tragic that Persad Center has not been able to accommodate the needs of the LGBTQIA+ community–And it’s not because of the counselors who are employed there.

  • Thanks for weighing in, Rayden. I disagree with you about the need to preserve a queer space and the status of Allies as a queer organization. But the concern here is that we have zero reason to believe this will improve the capacity of LGBTQ MH supports since the manner in which things are unfolding is just more of the same dysfunctional obfuscation that has plagued Persad for many years. My lack of confidence in the Board to lead the organization extends to a lack of faith in their capacity to navigate this with our interests as the priority. Here’s hoping they prove me wrong.

  • Tracey,

    Regarding EMDR, last year I diligently went searching for a LGBTQ practicioner who was EMDR certified and affiliated with a psychiatrist – the things that I have at Persad. I found some folks who had aspects of those components, but none who had all three. I posted on Facebook often during that search and was most often referred to therapists who were trauma certified (not EMDR specific) but had no relationship to a psychiatrist. That’s what a clinic center offers that is unique and important. Losing that unique triad of services would be devastating to me. I’m sure you know how challenging working with a psychiatrist in private practice can be and I have ten years of war stories.

    And I’m sure you appreciate that this ‘news’ without a timeframe is particularly hard on those of us in trauma processing therapies. That’s why we need the community to connect with Persad and Allies to actively insist on transparency and accountability. Those who most need those assurances may not be in a position to do so.

    Also, I will show your comment to my therapist to let her know you are EMDR certified.

    I hope both of you will reach out to Persad to speak for those who are voiceless.

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