By Elliot Owen
Bay Area Reporter
Lolo Cooperative Health, a 10-year-old Oakland-based integrative health center, has come out.
In honor of last month’s National Coming Out Day, Lolo announced its renewed commitment to serving the Bay Area’s LGBTQ community by redesigning its clinical programs to make LGBTQ families the main focus.
Taking a different approach to primary care medicine, Lolo offers acupuncture, chiropractic, herbal medicine, massage, naturopathy, yoga, and mental health services at affordable monthly rates. The center is practitioner-owned and run, and because it’s patient-centered, Lolo is responding to the special needs of the clients it serves.
“One thing we’ve done,” said Lolo co-founder Lorenzo Puertas, “is listen to our patients by involving them in conversations and events, really engaging and listening. This year, we’ve had an extraordinary number of LGBTQ families and individuals seeking care. It’s time for us to really embrace that serving the East Bay’s LGBTQ community is a large part of what we’re doing. Those are the people showing up at our door and we really need to bring that to the forefront.”
By being explicitly inclusive, Lolo intends to ensure that members of the LGBTQ community know their mental, physical, and emotional health will be respected when accessing services. As part of its plan, Lolo is providing staff with additional LGBTQ-sensitivity training, and undertaking focused outreach to the community. Maya Scott-Chung, a longtime LGBTQ activist, is an in-house program developer and staff trainer.
Three years ago, Scott-Chung, a self-identified lesbian, was doing education and marketing research for the San Francisco fertility clinic she works for and came across Lolo’s fertility-focused acupuncture. After inquiring about all of Lolo’s services, she enrolled as a patient because it was possible, under Lolo’s cooperative health model, to access multiple forms of care for affordable monthly fees.
What has also been compelling, Chung-Scott said, is the atmosphere Lolo provides for her family. For 17 years, Chung-Scott has been partnered with a transgender, butch-identified individual with whom she has a daughter. They are currently accessing fertility services from Lolo to help them conceive again, and have found the process far less problematic compared to four years ago when they sought care from other facilities.
“In 2009,” Scott-Chung, 47, said, “accessing fertility care looked like driving around to multiple providers; it was very expensive. We also encountered discrimination. Stress is one of the major factors in infertility challenges. Encountering discrimination and lack of recognition as a family combined with the high cost of health care were detrimental for us to healthily conceive.”
Scott-Chung calls Lolo a “sanctuary.” The clinic accepts her family structure as they have designed it and, although she isn’t pregnant yet, she is grateful for her reduced stress level this time around.
“We’ve felt seen, respected, and protected in Lolo’s environment,” Scott-Chung said. “How they are treating families is quite radical in a time that many insurance companies are refusing access to care. Lolo has created a membership model where my whole family has access, an inclusive model that’s explicitly welcoming to LGBTQ folks.”
Julia Ayoob, a lesbian, also had good things to say about the clinic. In 2012, she broke her foot in part because the steroid she is prescribed for her asthma causes bone loss. Even after physical therapy, Ayoob was left with excruciating pain in her foot, and an incorrect gait that caused hip pain. At Lolo, Ayoob’s foot wasn’t the only thing they addressed, they assessed her entire body.
“For the last year,” said Ayoob, 31, “I’ve been doing yoga, massage, and acupuncture. My hip pain went away, my foot is getting much better, and in terms of my asthma, it’s been one of the best years I’ve had in a long time. Lolo gives me hope because I started feeling depressed thinking about my age and having a long life ahead of me with disability and pain.”
What makes things easier for Ayoob is that Lolo also acknowledges her fiancee. She said that even though they live in the Bay Area, their relationship has felt dismissed in other health care environments.
“While I wouldn’t say I’ve experienced explicit discrimination, I would say some providers are uneducated,” Ayoob said. “So, my girlfriend turn’s into my ‘friend.’ It’s nuanced but still apparent. At Lolo, your family can look however. There is no question as to how you’re related or if you have a marriage certificate.”
About 2,000 people use the clinic, 500 of whom are members. There is room for 500 more clients, Puertas said, underlining that Lolo would like to reach “a sweet spot” between maintaining affordability and providing quality care.
“But our number one need to address is to make this a very welcoming place to get care,” Puertas continued. “We’re really in a place of listening to how we can better serve the community.”
For more information, visit www.lolohealth.com.