Pride Institute closes doors after 11 years

Posted on 16 Apr 2009 at 7:05pm
By John Wright News Editor

Hospital shutters inpatient facility for LGBT addiction, mental health


Randy Martin


Franky Smith

ARLINGTON —The Pride Institute, an inpatient treatment program for LGBT people with chemical dependency and mental health issues, quietly closed its doors last month after 11 years.

Wayne Hallford, CEO of Millwood Hospital in Arlington, where the Pride Institute has been housed since 1998, said the unit was closed because there weren’t enough patients to justify keeping it open.

The Pride Institute occupied approximately 10 beds and its own wing at the 120-bed Millwood Hospital.

But Hallford said the unit housed an average of only two to three patients at a time during the last year.

"We’re still set up to treat the gay and lesbian and community when they come into the hospital," Hallford said.

"It will simply be a treatment track within our general population. We still have some staff with experience in working with that community, and they will still be involved when someone comes in."

Franky Smith, the counselor who’d served as director of the Pride Institute since October 2007, said he was abruptly laid off on March 31 and given a severance package by the hospital.

Smith said he was surprised by the decision because a few months before, Hallford had pledged his support for the program during a meeting between the two.

"There was no warning," Smith said. "This caught me completely off guard."

While the patient count in the Pride Institute had reached zero on a few occasions, it also sometimes rose as high as 12, Smith said. He blamed the hospital for eliminating a marketing position for the unit last year.

"I don’t know how it’s supposed to grow without a marketer," Smith said. "I was only one person. I couldn’t do the marketing and the therapy."

Smith, a transgender man, also questioned whether other counselors at Millwood Hospital are qualified to deal with LGBT patients.

"I don’t know that a straight therapist could understand what it’s like being an LGBT person and what kind of issues we have to go through, any more than a white person could understand what’s it’s like to be black," Smith said.

Randy Martin, who served as director of the Pride Institute from 2003 until 2007 and now has a private counseling practice in Dallas, said the unit’s closure represents a significant loss for the LGBT community. The Pride Institute at Millwood Hospital was the only facility of its kind in the region and one of few nationwide.

"That doesn’t mean that other programs aren’t helpful and significantly helpful, but for many patients who come from different kinds of backgrounds, being in that gay-friendly, gay-affirming environment with staff who specialize in the treatment of that community made that program sought out by patients as well as clinicians who needed to refer," Martin said, adding that the Pride Institute also provided a supportive environment for people with HIV/AIDS.

"A gay-affirming environment is always helpful, but particularly when you’re severely depressed and suicidal, when you’re beginning to address substance abuse issues, when you’re at your most vulnerable, that’s not a time when you need to worry about being judged, being shamed by staff and other patients," Martin said.

Martin said there once were about a half-dozen facilities across the country affiliated with the Minnesota-based Pride Institute, founded in 1986. But Martin said many of the facilities have closed for the same reason as the Arlington unit.

According to the Web site of the Pride Institute in Eden Prairie, Minn., the only remaining affiliates were in Arlington and Fort Lauderdale. A spokeswoman at the Pride Institute in Minnesota said this week she wasn’t aware that the Arlington facility had closed. The spokeswoman didn’t respond to requests for additional information.

Liz Taylor, an Arlington resident who’s twice been a patient at the Pride Institute at Millwood Hospital, said she’s now going school to become a counselor and had dreamed of someday working at the facility.

Taylor, who was treated at the Pride Institute for depression in 2005 and participated in a clinical drug trial in 2007, said she was sad to learn that the unit had closed and still hopes it will eventually reopen.

"I think it provided such a great service for the gay and lesbian community," said Taylor, 53, also a recovering addict who’s been sober for almost 22 years. "It gave us a safe place to talk about the issues that made us depressed and made us want to drink. I’ve been in treatment centers that weren’t geared toward the gay and lesbian community, and it’s not a safe place to talk about our issues."

E-mail wright@dallasvoice.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 17, 2009.

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