Brian Toomey_1Recently I had the chance to hear three remarkable African-American Nurse Practitioners reflect on their careers, which started over 40 years ago at what was then called Orange Chatham Comprehensive Health Services and has become Piedmont Health Services.

These pioneer NP’s – Ms. Jean Dowdy, Ms. Marjorie Land and Ms. Glenda Hargraves – held a room full of current PHS managers and providers captive with their stories on the challenges they faced as some of the first African American women FNP’s in the country, let alone in North Carolina. These women shared many remarkable recollections and words of wisdom.

One of the more compelling reflections was shared by Ms. Jean Dowdy, who said that medical providers are privileged and honored and have a great responsibility with their patients. She described the exam room as a sanctuary where information is shared by a patient – sometimes for the first time – with someone who is entrusted to help the person.

The information patients share could be a pain that will not go away, or a loss of physical or mental function, or terror about changes seen in a loved one, or being reminded of past trauma and pain. It is within the sanctuary of the exam room that a person can finally feel safe enough to share these inner-most most fears, worries and doubts about the past, present or future.

At Piedmont Health Services we take this responsibility very seriously and encourage patients and family members to share these worries and concerns – after all, we are here to help all who come seek care. When someone comes into any of our facilities they will see a poster or brochure that simply says, ‘Do Ask, Do Tell’.

We want our patients and communities that we serve to know that, while there is a lot of emotion being expressed publicly on controversial subjects, we have been here since 1970 to listen and help. These issues include racial discrimination, language and cultural barriers and differences, and socio-economic biases.

These posters – Do Ask, Do Tell – are designed to encourage people to ask about LGBTQ concerns that might not be shared with others. Outside of the exam room, LGBTQ patients may be discouraged from asking questions and disclosing information – especially after the passage of the controversial HB2 bill, which prevents local governments from passing laws to protect transgender people who use public restrooms based on their gender identity. But we want these patients, and all patients, to know that we provide a welcoming environment.

HB2 does not affect the bathroom policies of private institutions, and we have not changed ours. At Piedmont Health, patients can use any bathroom they feel comfortable using. This is more than a theoretical issue for us; we have served hundreds of LGBTQ patients.

But providing a welcoming environment is about more than bathrooms. Our goal for the environment we strive to provide for our patients has not changed since we opened in 1970. Our three pioneer Nurse Practitioners – Jean Dowdy, Marjorie Land, and Glenda Hargraves – reminded us all of our commitment to be there for our patients, regardless of their life circumstance. There is great relief that a person can have when they unburden themselves from fear, worry or anxiety.  We want everyone to know that the tradition started in 1970 is still true today – Piedmont Health Services is here to help.

So please remember that if you have concerns please see your Medical Provider – you will feel better and always remember: Do Ask, Do Tell.

Written by: Brian Toomey, MSW
Chief Executive Officer
Piedmont Health Services

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