In January, Mazzoni Center, Philadelphia’s LGBT health care and wellness center, celebrated 35 years of promoting a service that is often hard to come by.
Mazzoni Center was founded in 1979 as the Gay Community Center of Philadelphia by a small group of volunteers who wanted to improve the health and wellness of the LGBT community in the Greater Philadelphia region.
Now operating out of three locations in Center City Philadelphia, the organization has a staff of 120 full time employees, and provides a myriad of services including primary health care services, mental and behavioral health services, LGBT legal services, HIV and STD testing, a food bank and housing subsidies for families and individuals affected by HIV, support groups, outreach and education programs.
Mazzoni Center executive director Nurit Shein said she is proud of the staff and the incredible work they do, specifically in the way the organization operates and carries out its mission.
“We are most proud of building organization that is truly comprehensive in terms of our approach, and that is committed to providing an exceptional level of service and care to individuals, many of whom who have historically been overlooked, and sometimes outright discriminated against, by the healthcare system,” she said.
Shein said Mazzoni Center’s commitment to providing care for the LGBT community goes back to the days of the AIDS crisis, when the LGBT community stepped up to tackle the challenge of providing support and resources head on.
“This organization was mostly volunteers at that time, and like a lot of similar organizationss around the country, we were forced to develop a system of services that would meet the multiple needs of people living with HIV/AIDS.”
Shein said the HIV/AIDS epidemic underscored the impact of health through cultural, economic, social and legal factors and said those factors framed Mazzoni Center’s approach as an agency.
“Our vision of wellness includes not just primary care, but mental health and counseling services, legal services, case management and social support,” she said. “And our programs are always evolving, as we work hard to anticipate and respond to the community’s changing health needs.”
With LGBT issues becoming more prevalent in health providers, Shein said Mazzoni Center will still serve an important purpose in the community and will continue to grow.
“Even in 2015, we have patients who travel hundreds of miles to see us, because they cannot find a knowledgeable and culturally competent provider in their area,” she said. “And while we’re happy to see anyone, that’s clearly not an ideal situation.”
Shein said even with all the advances in health care, there are still areas that need to be addressed such as homelessness in LGBT youth, HIV among young men of color, and violence towards trans-identified individuals.
“It’s important for organizations like ours to keep focused, recognize the sometimes complex factors behind them, and work toward effective solutions,” she said.
Shein said although the organization has been growing at a fast pace throughout the last few years, including an expansion at their medical offices in 2012, it would be ideal to find a single location that would include all of Mazzoni Center’s services under one roof.
Shein said she hopes to see more LGBT medical and mental health research in the future.
“Very little research has been done about our communities – the disparities, the specific medical issues, and the impact of stigma and social isolation,” she said. “We have so much rich data which, if analyzed, could be put to excellent use to support everyone in the community.”
Mazzoni Center will celebrate 35 years of service on May 15 at their annual Elixir event. The organization will recognize someone with a long history of serving Philadelphia’s LGBT communities, and also acknowledge a young leader who has shown a great deal of commitment and initiative.
Mazzoni Center has also launched a social media campaign where every Thursday, they’ll share a Throw Back Thursday (#TBT) image from their archives, reflecting on their experiences over the years.
Shein said she is immensely proud of how much the organization has grown.
“In my twenty years with the agency, we have grown well beyond what I could have envisioned. Thanks to an incredible staff, board, volunteers, and continued support from the community, we have developed some truly innovative programs, from our adolescent drop-in clinic to our women’s health initiative to our transgender services. And I think we’ve been able to balance this growth while maintaining an atmosphere that is highly personalized and client-focused. Whether someone is coming for one-on-one counseling, a primary care visit, dropping in to Wash West for an STD screening, whether they have a premium private insurance, or no insurance at all — we like to say that we meet each individual “where they are” in life, and we feel that is very important.”