Second chances: Two Spirit Health Services opens in downtown Orlando

By : Billy Manes
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As doctors’ offices go, Two Spirit Health Services, recently-opened on North Magnolia Avenue in Downtown Orlando (on the North side of Orange Avenue), is fairly posh – far beyond expectations for a health center which seeks to become a one-stop, judgment-free zone for a predominately LGBT client base, covering primary care, mental health concerns, substance abuse, trans-specific health care, among other things (there is a laser hair-removal component).

On the outside, it’s a standard office building across from the nearby Wells Fargo skyscraper; inside, however, its modesty gives way to a touch of flair. The reason for the color splashes and stylish wall adornments is clear: Dr. David Baker-Hargrove (or, Dr. Dave), a longtime fixture in the Orlando LGBT community, a noted mental-health therapist and the former president of the Metropolitan Business Association, isn’t one to play things down. Though getting the point of launching Two Spirits took some downtime and soul searching, he says, some of that is due to the stresses of leading a volunteer board.

“It’s really kind of interesting, because everybody involved in that point in time has so much better memory, or so much more of a favorable memory than I did, you know, because it was really wearing me down,” he says, in retrospect. “I was putting in 60 hours a week for which I was not getting paid, and my partner was like, ‘you know you’re not a charity worker. You know that we’re supposed to do this together in terms of the whole making money thing.’… I mean I was driving myself to the poorhouse. Because it’s so much work.”

Baker-Hargrove almost lost his drive in that period, he says. The money wasn’t pouring in for his private practice, and attempts at expanding into something larger, something more necessary for the community, weren’t panning out as expected. His husband Robert remained by his side, but his side wasn’t holding up the plans and the Ph.D. he spent his life working toward. Everything, it seemed, had hit a standstill.

“I sat for the whole holiday season of 2010, I sat on the couch and didn’t move,” he says. “I literally woke up on Jan 1., 2011, and said, ‘girl, you gotta get it together.”

So that’s what Baker-Hargrove did, or at least intended to do.

“I thought, you know, what do you really want to do?” he says. “And I said what I really want to do is I want to open up a health center. I want to have a comprehensive health coming where the LGBT community can come to get [what they need]; it is going to be open-access, you know? It is not going to be restricted by insurance or ability to pay that anybody can come because, you know, I’ve certainly done enough work in understanding the health disparities that exist between the general population and us. And then especially the transgender population; that’s even worse.”

He expanded into his 3,000 sq. ft. medical space, aware of the risk of such a leap, and immediately had trouble finding the right physician to head up his ambitions for a one-stop LGBT health center.

“I hired a nurse, so I had a staff,” he says. “No patients; no physician.” He also had a lot of space. As good fortune would have it, Baker-Hargrove headed down to a National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce Conference in Fort Lauderdale last year to explore his cause. It was a new leaf being turned, an attempt to grow out of a 13-hour billing cycle for mental health consultation that wasn’t covering the bills; an attempt to live his dream of paying back a community that had previously treated him so well. After a few stumbles (He called his husband Robert and asked if he could come home, among other bits of turmoil), Dr. Dave bumped into a vendor whose sister was a physician recruiter. By the end of the week, he had four candidates, he says. Perhaps more importantly, one of them was transgender. She was trained as a family physician and a gynecologist and proficient in HIV prevention medications, including PrEP. She’s now on staff.

Moving forward, Baker-Hargrove hopes to navigate the trials of starting a new health clinic (there is some talk of balancing out-of-pocket fees from insured patients with the uninsured to mitigate rates, but it’s still in the formative stages) while trying to give back to the community he helped to build.

“I feel like the main story of this clinic is about connecting to your dreams,” he says. “Because I feel like the most important thing about this is that it’s taught me. There were so many times I had fear. There were so many times I had doubt. There were so many times I had impostor syndrome, but what I decided was the need to have this clinic in Central Florida was more important than that. I just figured it out. I mean, now it’s great. It’s a really great space and I think it’s going to do really great things.”

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