Hartford Healthcare opens Center for Gender Health

This month, Hartford Healthcare introduced its new medical clinic to provide individualized, compassionate care to transgender and gender nonconforming patients.

The Center for Gender Health is located inside the Community Care Center at 132 Jefferson St. Hartford. It offers various services – endocrinology, urology, gynecology, plastic surgery, voice therapy, primary care and behavioral health.

It will operate on a fortnightly clinic model. They won’t see patients until September, but are accepting referrals and making appointments.

The goal is to create a safe space for transgender people seeking medical care, said Dr. Patrick Cahill, infectious disease physician and medical director of the Community Care Center.

“[Trans] people struggled to understand and accept medical providers and didn’t know where to turn to find people who could talk to them at an appropriate level,” he said.

According to the 2015 US Transgender Survey (USTS), 20% of 319 Connecticut respondents said they did not see a doctor when needed for fear of rejection and discrimination.

Additionally, 29% of those who consulted a healthcare professional reported having had at least one negative experience related to their gender, such as being denied treatment, verbal harassment, and physical or sexual assault.

“The most debilitating barriers for trans and gender diverse people are stigma, stereotyping and fear,” said Dr. Laura Saunders, psychologist and director of the Center for Gender Health. “The expectation of rejection or the feeling that you have to provide education to your provider is very daunting. No patient wants to feel like they are being misunderstood because of a core aspect of their identity.”

Transphobia in the medical field

Every time Dawn Ennis goes to the doctor, she knows her identity as a transgender woman will come back at some point.

Known as a “trans elbow”, Ennis explained that if she were to hurt her elbow, the first thing doctors would focus on was her gender identity.

“If I talk to someone in the medical field, they will take my transgender identity and somehow take into account what they are diagnosing,” she said.

Ennis was four years old when she realized she was a girl, but didn’t begin her transition until adulthood. Throughout her journey, she has encountered numerous instances of transphobia from medical personnel and had to jump through many “hoops” to be herself.

In 2018, Ennis had to get approval from a psychologist, psychiatrist, mental health counselor and endocrinologist to perform vaginoplasty – also known as bottom surgery.

Her Connecticut Medicaid insurance, HUSKY, covered surgery and had only one provider working with transgender people. Ennis said that during the first appointment, the doctor asked him a series of transphobic questions, such as “are you gay or straight?”

He also admitted that he was self-taught when it comes to vaginoplasty and expressed doubts about whether the operation would have the desired effect, according to Ennis.

She was able to transfer her operation to a doctor in New York a year later. However, she had complications after the operation and saw a doctor in Connecticut. When he saw her pelvis, he expressed concerns about the quality of the procedure.

When Ennis heard about the Center for Gender Health, she knew it would be invaluable to the transgender community.

“There are too few places to help all trans people who need gender affirmation care and that’s not just in Connecticut but across the United States,” she said. . “People are going to travel from all over the country to CT because they can’t get that kind of care where they live.”

What should a new patient expect?

Since the Center for Gender Health will operate on a clinic model, clients will schedule an appointment for a specific service. The clinic will be open twice a month, but Saunders hopes they will eventually switch to a weekly schedule.

The center will also have recovery support specialists to lead group therapy. These are transgender or queer people who are transitioning or have transitioned.

“[The specialist] is a bridge person between patient and provider,” Saunders said. “They serve as a bridge to help suppliers understand the unique needs of [the trans] population.”

Cahill, an infectious disease physician with Hartford Healthcare and medical director of the community care center, explained what patients should expect during their first appointment.

New patients will be asked how they would like to be identified to update the digitized official medical record and learn about their health needs. This allows all staff to know their name and pronouns when the patient comes for the second time.

“Cisgender, heterosexual [people] probably never thought about the fact that they can just walk into any doctor’s office and they’re identified by their birth name and that’s what they choose to use,” said Cahill.

He explained that patients can request a name change at any time and as many times as they wish.

Saunders says these small actions, like changing a name on an official record and having all services in one place, make a huge difference in patient care.

“If we put the needs of the patient first, it means that for the transgender and diverse population, we need to provide more specialized care that will allow them to feel that they are valued and that their needs are our priority,” he said. she declared.

To learn more about the Center for Gender Health, visit their website.

Health equity reporter Cris Villalonga-Vivoni is a corps member of Report for America, a national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms. To learn more about RFA, visit www.reportforamerica.org.

Villalonga-Vivoni can be contacted at cvillalonga@record-journal.com.


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