Today Texas Health Action announced Austin’s Waterloo Counseling Center will become a program of Texas Health Action alongside THA’s sexual health and wellness program, Kind Clinic.
The merger, which builds upon an existing partnership offering low-cost mental health counseling from Waterloo Counseling Center for Kind Clinic patients, is part of Texas Health Action’s vision to provide integrated sexual and behavioral health services in 2021, according to a press release.
“Too often mental health and sexual wellness needs are completely ignored or not offered in a safe and supportive environment, especially for the LGBTQIA+ community and our allies,” said Texas Health Action CEO Christopher Hamilton in the release. “As programs under Texas Health Action, Waterloo Counseling Center and Kind Clinic will change that. And we look forward to working with the community to expand access to integrated care for those who need it the most.” Alex McQuade, Waterloo’s board chair, also noted in the release that Waterloo clients will benefit from a more coordinated approach to care. McQuade said, “Together, we will have greater impact than we ever could on our own.”
The Waterloo Counseling Center – which will retain its name under THA – was founded in 1983 to provide mental health services to those dying from AIDS. Today the WCC continues to serve people living with HIV/AIDS and the LGBTQIA community. In 2017 THA opened its first stand-alone Kind Clinic – a full-service sexual health and wellness clinic that also offers gender affirming care – in Central Austin. Earlier this year the nonprofit opened its third Kind Clinic location in San Antonio.
Waterloo’s lead therapist Sarah Gonzales said Kind Clinic – home to Travis County’s first-ever trans-specific health care clinic – filled a critical gap in affirming medical providers for trans and nonbinary clients at Waterloo Counseling Center seeking gender care services. “At the time, just because [medical providers] were saying they were GLBT friendly, it didn’t necessarily mean that they were GLBT affirming,” Gonzales told the Chronicle. “There were a lot of people that wanted to be friendly but really didn’t know what they were doing, and they were causing harm.” With Kind Clinic, however, Gonzales believes “a lot of my clients feel safe … knowing that they’re going to get their needs met, knowing that somebody is going to talk them through and answer their questions.”
Dr. Dan Nguyen, a provider at Kind Clinic, said a more comprehensive approach to care – one that integrates sexual health and behavioral health services like the merger – can improve mental health and sexual health outcomes. As Nguyen explained to the Chronicle, addressing underlying mental health issues can help address behaviors that might relate to risky sex encounters. “We can provide sexual health services but that’s not at the root cause at times of why [people are] engaging in non-safe sex practices.”
The details of how services will be streamlined between the two programs remain to be worked out, but Gonzales told us the merger’s “soft official date from what we know right now would be the end of December.” In the meantime, Texas Health Action will host virtual town halls for Waterloo Counseling Center clients, Kind Clinic patients, and community members on Sept. 14 and 16 in an effort to gather feedback informing the integration of services.