The LGBTQ Center Long Beach

Long Beach, California

Introduction

The LGBTQ Center Long Beach is a nonprofit dedicated to advancing equity for LGBTQ people through culturally responsive advocacy, education, programs, and services.

Originally founded in 1977 as an informal forum to discuss issues important to the LGBTQ community, the organization officially incorporated under the name One in Long Beach, Inc. in 1980. Since then, the center has been providing a variety of health, social, advocacy, and legal services to the LGBTQ community, and has operated under its current name since 2014.

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck North America in March, the center was forced to begin providing services remotely, a transition that coincided with the rollout of Penelope software at the organization. Though the transition to remote care has limited the organization’s ability to provide their services in full, they’ve been able to come up with innovative solutions such as the creation of a drive-up/walk-up service for HIV testing in the organization’s parking lot.

We checked in with Ismael Salamanca, Director of Health Services at The LGBTQ Center Long Beach, to learn more about the program and how Penelope and Engage have helped the organization adapt their service delivery and operations in the COVID era.

LGBTQ Long Beach penelope on ipad at testing centreHow long has The LGBTQ Center Long Beach been using Penelope?

We got the program in 2018 and began using the database in the fall of 2019. We hadn’t really implemented the use of Penelope until quarantine was instituted in March of this year. Working from home gave my team the time to scan and enter hard copy patient files into the database.

Why did your organization originally choose Penelope as your client management system?

Our mental health clinical director suggested that we look into an EMR or eDatabase to have a secure space to access our client files. We ended up choosing Penelope because of how multiple departments could access the same files and cross-reference presenting issues, concerns, and program use.

The Center is one of the few holistic spaces that offer multiple services that work collaboratively. For example, youth services regularly send clients to HIV/STI Screening so having this interface that allows us to communicate between workers in departments is very useful.

We are definitely learning as we transition into a digital platform for our client documents and have a lot to learn. We are eager to get this to 100 per cent use across the agency and are looking forward to incorporating Add.Me for client registration and ClientConnect for clients accessing their testing/results records during this time of working remotely.

Trying to find a way to offer services with low-to-no contact with patients has been essential, which is why Penelope’s tools have shed some light on potential solutions during these new times.

Trying to find a way to offer services with low-to-no contact with patients has been essential, which is why Penelope’s tools have shed some light on potential solutions during these new times.

What challenges did your organization face when the COVID-19 pandemic hit?

We serve a variety of clients with a variety of services, most taking place in person and in shared spaces. The Center has been closed to the public since March 17th and since then we have all been working remotely and clients have not had complete access to one of the only LGBTQ safe and supportive spaces in Long Beach.

How did you overcome or address these challenges?

Since we closed to the public, and still today, we do not have in-person mental health services and can only support those with access to smartphones with video chat functions. Support groups have gone digital, and again, are only accessible to people with a computer or telephone. Other services like legal and domestic violence support have seen a spike in demand for help, yet we are limited with what we can and can’t do in person. My program, which needs face-to-face interaction, has been limited to drive-up and walk-up testing, starting with rapid HIV testing and hopefully, soon, STI Screening.

For my program, Penelope has provided us a tool to be able to access a client’s medical file and send/receive screener forms and consent forms via email, ultimately reducing contact to paper, pens, or even a shared tablet screen.

In what ways was Penelope helpful during this time?

For my program, Penelope has provided us a tool to be able to access a client’s medical file and send/receive screener forms and consent forms via email, ultimately reducing contact to paper, pens, or even a shared tablet screen. Once we are partially open to the public for STI Screening, the Add.Me function and ClientConnect option will support with registration and providing clients with access to results.

When did you decide to begin providing drive-up HIV/STI testing?

After we started learning more about COVID-19 and how the virus is transmitted, we started looking at how the Long Beach Health Department was offering coronavirus testing at schools, parking lots, and at their facility. Starting in April, we moved to protocol development mode and created a process to protect our clients and staff and prevent the spread of COVID-19. By late May, we were able to get started by offering testing on a drive-up/walk-up basis and focused on rapid HIV testing to start.

LGBTQ Long Beach testing centre health care workerHow has Penelope and Engage assisted in this transition?

Penelope helped in the transition from on-site to off-site testing by facilitating the process of digitizing forms and medical records. We were able to expand on the process we had in place to email patients their health assessment and consent forms, to also include having their results, previous history, and reminders all in the same platform.

What has been the reaction of your staff to using Penelope and Engage for the drive-up testing program?

To be honest, going from pen and paper to typing and logging in has been challenging, but having the accessibility to a client’s records on your computer, whether at home while working remotely or on a tablet when working on-site during drive-up walk-up services, has been great. As of now, staff have begun getting used to using Penelope and are learning each day on how to use it.

What’s been the reaction of your clients? Are they finding it effective?

Similarly, we are still getting some confusion on which forms to fill out, ‘how will you send them to me,’ and ‘how do I sign them.’ For the most part, it seems a lot easier and the barrier we are working on is connecting with patients who do not have a smartphone or computer to complete the forms on.

How many tests are you able to provide per day or week?

We are able to provide 20 HIV tests a week by only offering testing two days a week for a limited time. The program is hoping to get back to full capacity providing services six days a week and offering 150 to 200 tests a month.

How is success defined for this program?

Success for us is accessing clients who are stigmatized in accessing services anywhere else. If we can create programming that can focus on transgender care, create an STI screening program the provides ‘multi-site screening’ for LGBT people and that is available during non-traditional hours, then we have been successful. Obviously, reaching our contract goals is a success for us but being able to adapt with change and provide the information to our funders in a new way is why we look forward to working with Athena on creating digital reports for our funders who require paper forms.

LGBTQ Long Beach - Using Engage for Drive by testingDo you think the drive-up testing program or other virtual care provision will continue post-COVID? Do you know when your organization may be allowed to transition back to “normal”?

Drive-up testing will continue be part of our tool kit as an alternative option for testing during similar times or a creative approach to event testing. Telehealth will most definitely continue with us, as we have seen the benefits of having that interaction with clients that would be difficult to have on-site as often as they are needed.

We have learned a lot during this health crisis and my team is creating new possibilities to grow the program post COVID-19. This process is a three-phase process for us, with adding drive-up/at-home STI screening in Phase 2 and an on-site hybrid version of our previous program model with folks access the building in Phase 3. As of now, with the ever-changing guidelines, we are looking at possibly moving to Phase 2 in mid-July and Phase 3 in August or September. Talks across the country are for community centers like ours to not be at full capacity until early 2021 at the earliest.

What was your deployment experience like with Athena staff? Were they helpful in assisting the transition to using Engage for the drive-up testing program?

I must say that Colin Boucher has been a superhero and rock star with getting us on board with Penelope. His dedication to the administrative team’s needs, followed by his attention to my program team have, by FAR, surpassed what any representative we have had in the past has offered to us. This, I am sure, only reflects what Athena represents and creates for all of their clients and for that I am extremely grateful.

Maximizing the Engage platform for our needs was essential for this program, as having something that not only works smoothly but also communicates clearly to my team and clients. The option to add signature sections where people can use their phones to sign, eliminating contact completely, was essential during this time of physical distancing and limiting contact.

Maximizing the Engage platform for our needs was essential for this program, as having something that not only works smoothly but also communicates clearly to my team and clients. The option to add signature sections where people can use their phones to sign, eliminating contact completely, was essential during this time of physical distancing and limiting contact.

Do you have any recommendations for similar organizations?

Small-to medium nonprofits need as much support as we can get. Larger organizations like community clinics/hospitals and non-profits with multimillion-dollar budgets can access programs similar to Penelope to run their programs efficiently.

Nonprofits like ours, who see clients that normally cannot access what I would call a ‘fancy organization’ with digital forms, ClientConnect portals and touch screens, should be able to have similar care. That is why connecting with Athena and having Penelope will allow us to continue to provide the care we offer, with the added benefit of being accessible during a time of keeping our distance and focusing on public health.

Is there anything else you’d like to add that I haven’t asked about?

Thank you. Thank you for helping us get to a new era of service provision that will not only take my program, but the rest of our programs, to the next level. We look forward to learning more about the reporting options as they relate to state and county funders and how we can continue to use Penelope to grow what we offer today.

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