Disability Hospital waiting room

Two years ago, four people—Jude Vachon, Lizzie Anderson, Rayden Sorock and Kelsey Branca—decided it was time to create a resource that gives people information about health care providers with open and accessible practices as well guidance on what “good health care services” means.

With crowdsourced information, Pittsburgh Health Brigade is a “space where people can share recommendations for good health care providers with each other,” says Vachon. “We hope it’s helpful, particularly to people that have a harder time finding the health care that they need—trans people, low-income people, people with disabilities.”

The group started by creating a checklist as a guide to get a sense of “what is good health care?” The questions aim to empower the patient and are designed to educate the consumer on their right to expect compassionate and inclusive service.

“The questions are about recognizing what good health care can look like because it shows up in a lot of different ways. It also looks different if you are a minority, so there are different lists to represent different health care needs,” says Vachon.

Questions range from general considerations to areas that are more specific such as: “Was the information that you needed provided in an accessible way (understandable, braille, etc.)?” “Did the provider speak to you on your level (i.e. sitting, face-to-face)?” and “If you decided not to take their advice, how did they react?”

There are also questions that address concerns specific to the LGBTQ, disabled, survivors of abuse and other communities. The website also welcomes feedback and additional questions from consumers.

The impetus for the website came directly from the founders’ experience and their work.

Sorock has been conducting transgender 101 workshops for a decade and has seen disparities in health care. “Health care is a major problem for trans people,” he says.

Branca is a graduate of Pitt’s School of Public Health and is passionate about working towards health equity and social justice for marginalized communities.

Anderson is a community birth doula and a social worker who believes that everyone has a right to “agency and tenderness in their health care.”

Vachon has been working on health care advocacy for the past decade, beginning with Be Well! Pittsburgh—an advocacy group that provided information for low-income, uninsured individuals on how to access health care pre-Affordable Care Act. “I have heard countless stories about peoples’ struggles to find the health care that they need and deserve. I want people to get what they need and deserve and I want it to be less of a struggle.”

Vachon and Anderson continue the active work of maintaining the website and promoting the organization.

Most “best of” rankings for health care providers in Pittsburgh are culled from reviews by peers and there is no site that focuses on evaluating service to minorities. Pittsburgh Health Brigade has a survey that users can access for detailed information about providers that are inclusive and have accessible practices. But it is not like typical review sites because the site provides not only provide reviews but also gives consumers information on what they have a right to expect and questions they should be able to ask at every doctor visit, adds Vachon. “The difference between this and Yelp is that the education aspect on what good health care looks like is extremely important.”

“We developed the site because we want to equip people with the right tools so they can recognize good health care—what to look for, how to ask for it and where to find it,” says Vachon. “We want people to keep sharing with each other – sharing experiences with providers so that there is a solid and useful list of great, respectful, informed providers that everyone can rely on.”

Leah Lizarondo is a food advocate, writer and speaker. She is also the co-founder of 412 Food Rescue, an organization that seeks to eliminate food waste to make an impact on hunger and the environment. She is the Chief Veghacker, recipe creator and curator at The Brazen Kitchen, where she writes about food and food policy. She writes about the intersection of food, health, innovation and policy.