A few years ago, Richard Larison was leading efforts for Johns Hopkins Medicine International to expand health care access at a local hospital in Panama City, Panama, when a thought popped into his head.
"You know, there are still people in my own country that still don't have access to good health care," Larison remembered thinking.
Fast-forward to July 2012, when Larison stepped into a new role as CEO of Chase Brexton Health Care, a Baltimore-based nonprofit clinic embarking on an ambitious expansion in multiple suburban locations and a newly renovated headquarters in Mount Vernon.
Started in 1978 as a small volunteer operation serving gay men affected by the emerging AIDS epidemic, Chase Brexton now has a primary care practice, a pharmacy, dental services and mental health and substance abuse programs. The clinic serves about 25,000 people a year.
While it still considers the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community one of its core constituencies — gay men with HIV account for about 16 percent of its clientele, and it recently opened a LGBT Health Resource Center — Chase Brexton also sees its demographic shifting, Larison said, in part because of an influx of undocumented immigrant and younger patients.
"More people came under our umbrella, and we never really ask people to leave," he said.
The Baltimore Sun checked in with Larison to take the pulse of his tenure so far.
What drew you to Chase Brexton after spending years abroad?
I originally was drawn to international opportunities because I wanted to make a difference in the world. I knew there were many people who didn't have access to quality health care. I am happy to say that I was able to be part of projects that built hospitals and significantly improved the quality of health services. After spending more than eight years abroad, I started thinking about returning to the U.S. and how I could make a difference here at home. I knew that there were still a great number of people who did not have access to quality health care in my own country. The opportunity with Chase Brexton Health Care seemed a perfect fit for me.
How are the demographics of Chase Brexton's patient population changing, and what do the changes mean operationally?
Chase Brexton provides patient-centered, comprehensive health care for individuals and families across their life span, and has done so for many years. While historically we have served a significantly larger proportion of adults, particularly at our Mount Vernon location, our pediatric patient population continues to grow and we're seeing children from newborns through adolescence and into adulthood. Speaking of newborns, in 2013, Chase Brexton added comprehensive obstetrics, gynecology, and midwifery services, allowing us to better serve the comprehensive needs of our patients and the community.
Chase Brexton's history goes back 35 years. Its roots are in serving the LGBTQ community and we proudly continue be a leader in LGBTQ health and health care.
What has your new building allowed the organization to do?
The move to our new Mount Vernon center has significantly increased our capacity to serve patients and to add new services such as OB/GYN. It has also allowed us to dream big and redesign how we deliver health care. At Chase Brexton, we use an integrated model of primary care, with patients at the center and health care teams that include health counselors, case management, behavioral health, nursing, medical, and support staff all working together based on the individual needs of each patient.
We spent many months determining how to optimally deliver care, and then designed the space to do it. Our medical "pods" allow our care teams to work together seamlessly in a shared space that brings each member of the team to the patient, instead of the reverse. We took a similar approach in designing the behavioral health and dental space. The new space also allowed us to consolidate what used to be spread across two facilities and provide a true 'one-stop shop' for patients in the city.
I should also mention that our Mount Vernon center has two community rooms which we make available for use by outside organizations.
What has the Affordable Care Act meant for Chase Brexton and its mission?
The mission of Chase Brexton Health Care is to provide compassionate, quality health care that honors diversity, inspires wellness and improves our communities. Our charge has been — and continues to be — to provide this care to all, regardless of insurance status or ability to pay. The Affordable Care Act, through the expansion of Medicaid and the introduction of health care exchanges, has increased the proportion of our patients that have access to comprehensive insurance coverage. However, we know that there are still individuals who do not have insurance, or are ineligible for insurance coverage under the ACA, and we will continue to serve these individuals and work to improve our communities.
You're a big travel and international history buff who's already traveled a lot. What's your next dream destination and why?
Darius [Larison's husband] and I are always planning trips, and one idea that keeps coming up for us is a trip to South Africa. I've been fortunate to visit places on all of the continents, but South Africa is still an undiscovered location for us. I think the combination of history, the variety of places to visit and access to great food and wine make it an ideal place for us to explore.