Guiding Right opens Tulsa office to serve people of color
by Rob Howard
“It seems that lack of HIV prevention education, stigma and distrust in healthcare systems are the top barriers to accessing services for people of color living with HIV/AIDS,” says Michael Merryman, Health Education Supervisor for Guiding Right’s new Tulsa office.
Guiding Right, which has served the Oklahoma City African American community since 1999, recently opened the Tulsa office at 5553 S. Peoria Ave, Suite 101. While the Oklahoma City office has a broad range of excellent programs, Merryman explains that the new office is focusing on “prevention, awareness education, testing and referral services for now. Again, the goal is to eventually expand those offerings to match those of the OKC office.”
The need among the African American community is stark. Merryman cites some statistics: Black/African Americans made up 21.8 percent of chlamydia cases, the highest rate among all racial groups (5.1 times the rate of whites); and African Americans made up 34.9 percent of gonorrhea cases, the highest rate among all racial groups (almost nine times the rate of whites).
Additionally, in 2015, African Americans had the highest rate of people living with HIV/AIDS cases (497.3 cases per 100,000) and accounted for 55.7 percent of all people living with HIV/AIDS; and African Americans accounted for 20.1 percent of primary and secondary syphilis cases, 3.1 times the rate of whites.
Serving minority communities presents significant challenges, says Merryman. “Some of the reasons can be stigma of being at risk for a sexually transmitted infection or disease, or may even be based in fear of what's unknown about the infections or the people who have them. In many cases it comes down to lack of communication or dialogue, which can isolate a person from prevention, treatment, or help in general.
“Reaching out to a population with such roadblocks can make outreach difficult,” he says. “Therefore Guiding Right, Inc. relies on meeting potential high-risk clients where many access services in the community (i.e., local bars, community agencies, recovery programs, social programming, middle and high schools, colleges and special events).”
It is important that the services be “culturally competent”. “Providing culturally competent services includes, but is not limited to, reflecting the demographics for which you are serving, having experience with those populations and having intimate or special knowledge of the peoples you are reaching out to. Most importantly, compassion and non-judgmental understanding is key to being able to continue our efforts. Gaining trust must remain one of our highest goals in order to make an impact.”
Merryman and the Guiding Right – Tulsa office, are “working hard to build close allies and good working relationships with all other agencies in the area offering similar services while working to distinguish ourselves within the target populations we focus on.”
The organization does not charge for their testing services whether in or outside of their clinic. You can reach the Guiding Right Tulsa office at (918) 986-8400; they serve anyone calling from within Oklahoma.
Copyright 2017 The Gayly – March 29, 2017 @ 1:20 p.m.