USF Haven clinic serves LGBT community

It’s not unusual for students to avoid going to the doctor, but for the LGBT community on campus, that may be a bigger concern.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, LGBT youth are at a higher risk for depression, substance abuse and sexually transmitted diseases. Additionally, HIV infection rates increased by 26 percent between 2008 and 2011 for gay men between 13 and 24.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, Florida has the highest number of new HIV diagnoses in the nation, with Hillsborough County demonstrating the largest increase — 63 percent from 2012 to 2014. There were 273 new cases of HIV in Hillsborough during 2012, 347 in 2013 and 445 in 2014. 

In the hopes of eliminating the stigma of going to the doctor, which can include fearing discrimination or misunderstanding in the LGBT community, USF is promoting its Haven Clinic, which provides confidential resources.

Within the Student Health Services (SHS) building, the Clinic provides primary care geared toward the LGBT community, such as immunizations, STI testing, sexual education and transgender transitioning services. 

Headed by Dr. Joseph Puccio, executive and medical director at SHS, the clinic seeks to provide a comfortable and accepting environment for the members of the community that may be fearful of discrimination when seeking out health care.

“(USF Haven Clinic) is a clinic that you can come to and ask anything about any sexuality,” Puccio said.

“It’s important for the university to have a comfortable, confidential setting to provide the accurate scientific information so students can make informed decisions about their health care.”

The clinic allows students to call SHS and request an appointment with Haven Clinic and avoid any intrusive questions concerning the reasons for their visit. 

“Anything about medical  or health (services) you have to feel comfortable (about) otherwise you won’t seek out that guidance,” said Susanna Perez-Field, program coordinator for SHS.

The clinic began about three years ago as part of an initiative by the USF PRIDE Alliance. The alliance is a campus organization that seeks to build up the LGBT community on campus.

Over the years, the clinic has seen significant growth as undergraduates asked for ways students could receive confidential health care from the SHS office. Although Puccio was unable to disclose the number of students who visited the clinic due to privacy concerns, Puccio said all areas of the LGBT community have utilized the clinic’s services and have found resources where they haven’t been able to find them in the past. 

Clinical care sessions meet every other week, and appointments are made within two weeks of requests. In the future, the clinic hopes to expand its hours, Puccio said. 

Outside Haven Clinic, there are more services available to the LGBT community on campus. All of the services offered by SHS as a whole are open to the community, such as general medical care, primary care, sexual health and gynecology, immunizations and psychiatry.  SHS Assistant Director of Sexual Health and Gynecology Patrica Trow-Weaver said the office is striving to be about advocacy.

At Wednesday’s LBGTQ+ Open House event for the clinic, Health Promotion Specialist Rachael Novick said the Wellness Center is a safe spot for the LGBT community to come and take advantage of resources and ask questions.

The open house served as an information session and anonymous question and answer session for LGBT students about the resources available to them.

“In our society, there’s so much stigma and so much fear, and out of that comes prejudice and people get mistreated because they’re misunderstood,” Weaver said.