Q&A With: Tim Young CEO of Open Health, Addressing HIV and Healthcare in Baton Rouge

Baton Rouge specifically north Baton Rouge has a problem with healthcare access and Open Health Care Clinic and their CEO Tim Young are helping Baton Rouge address the problem. Tim Young has been in the healthcare industry for two decades, primarily focussing on helping those living with HIV. 

For years now, Baton Rouge has been one of the highest ranked cities in America for new cases of HIV. We sat down with Tim to explore how he and Open Health have been helping transform our approach as a city to the stigma’s surrounding HIV, as well as expanding healthcare to people across this region. 

Q: What has helped you transform and grow your organizations? 

Unquestionably, it’s been the dedication and commitment of our staff and the organization’s volunteer-based board of directors.  I’m most proud of our staff, who could choose to work in an area that’s less stigmatized.  They bring a wide variety of skills that combine to deliver our services in a manner which respects the dignity of our patients.  That culture has been the key to our success.

And I can’t say enough about the hundreds of individuals who have taken time away from their jobs and families to give back to the community they love.  Being a good board member is a really tough job.  It requires lots of homework and many meetings.  They establish the vision and then delegate to me the privilege of moving the organization forward.  It’s been a successful formula for more than two decades and we intend to continue improving our delivery of care to serve the community.

Q: How would you describe the impact of the work you’re doing on Baton Rouge? 

Hundreds of children have the love of parents and grandparents they might otherwise not have without the care and services we provide for people living with HIV.  That’s the true impact but I don’t know how to measure that.  So we use other kinds of measures: 1) nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in health care resources generated for our community over the past 20 years, 2) 10,000 primary care patients to be served this year, 3) $5 million dollars in annual payroll contributed to the local economy, 4) hundreds of homeless and formerly homeless persons assisted each month, 5) more than 3500 clients assisted statewide with health insurance subsidies.  The true impact is the number of people who continue to be here with their families.  In the early stages of this disease we lost so many people.  It’s comforting to know we’ve helped support so many lives. 

Q: What are you most proud of over your years of service? 

That’s a tough one because there are so many people who have helped us and I’m proud of all of them.  I guess I’d say what I’m most proud of is the organization itself.  We’ve built a sustainable community asset that is poised to serve the health care needs of Baton Rouge for decades to come.   Many years from now, the good people of Baton Rouge will take Open Health for granted as one of the many health care resources that benefit our community.   We don’t often stop to think about the health care resources we have now and how they came to be.  Many people helped to build them over many years.  All of those organizations started as a vision followed by lots of hard work by countless individuals, just as this one has.  I’m proud to say that I’ve played a part but none of us did anything on our own.  I’m proud that together we’ve built a legacy that will long endure as a testament to the care our community shows for its people.

Q: What are have been the greatest challenges through the journey? 

We’ve had a number of challenges growing the organization to respond to the many needs in the community.  In the earliest days it was the insufficiency of funding which has greatly improved with Medicaid expansion.  And there is the constantly changing health care environment to which we are continually adapting.  The greatest challenge that we’ve had, and still have, is the stigma associated with HIV.  

With Open Health Care clinic, our challenge is to hire enough qualified staff and train them fast enough to provide the larger array of services we now offer to everyone in the community; primary care for adults and kids, dental care and behavioral health services to anyone regardless of their ability to pay.

Q: What does Baton Rouge need to improve in your field? 

I’d have to say that the stigma that many in our community still exhibit towards people living with HIV needs to change.  We do harm in our community when we shun those who feel they may have exposed themselves to the HIV virus.  Stigma prevents them from coming in for testing and treatment.  During that time, they may pass the virus on to others.  The stigma we see today is mostly due to the horrendous pictures of the tragic way that AIDS affected its earliest patients.  But we’re past that now.  Someone exposed to HIV today can have a normal life expectancy if they are diagnosed and treated early.  We need to communicate better to those practicing risky behavior about the high prevalence of HIV among their pool of potential sexual partners.  We also need to spread the word about the new biomedical intervention.  One pill once a day will prevent someone from acquiring HIV.  For those who continue to engage in risky behavior PrEP, for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, may be the answer.

Q: Why do you do this work? 

This is my livelihood; it’s how I earn a living.  Let’s be clear about that.  I’m glad I’ve been able to use my skills to help grow the organization.  But I also have a deep passion for people living with HIV.  I’m humbled by the courage they exhibit in the face of the effects of their illness and with the stigma they struggle against every day.  I’ve lost many friends to this virus who otherwise would have been here to continue to love and care for their families.  I know we will help many to continue to live their lives fully despite this illness.  Most of our patients will no longer die from their HIV but from other health-related causes and age.  I can envision the day when Baton Rouge’s rates are no longer in the top 10 nationally, and even when we no longer consider HIV to be an epidemic as it is today.

Now that we have transformed the organization into a federally qualified health center (FQHC), we have the opportunity to use our experience and staff dedication to provide health care services to the entire community, particularly those benefiting from expanded Medicaid services.  We will always be dedicated to our original mission, but now we have the opportunity to serve so many more people.  That’s very invigorating and encourages me to continue to grow the organization to better serve our community.

Q: What is the vision moving forward? 

Open Health Care Clinic provides “whole care to the whole community”.  We’re not leaving anything behind but we are moving forward.  Our new health care clinic near BR General offers services to everyone in the community.  As a community health center, we offer adult and pediatric primary care, dental and behavioral health services.  In 2019, we’re going to add a new satellite clinic in north Baton Rouge.  We’re also going to be working with schools to offer on-site dental care needs.  I’m excited about the terrific things we’re doing at Open Health and look forward to expanding the services we offer to more people in our community.

Q: Where do you see yourself and the organization in 5 — 10 years? 

As I wind down my career over the next decade, I hope we can grow the organization to have neighborhood health care clinics in each of the eight zip codes we currently serve.  We’re well on our way now, but we certainly intend to be one of the largest and most trusted community health centers in the state.  We’ve enjoyed incredible community support for which we are very grateful.  We’re humbled by the trust our patients have placed in us and we intend to continue to honor that trust with quality care.  I won’t be with the organization forever, but the organization will continue to serve our community long after I’m gone.