News | Announcement, Community

Ryan Health is Committed to Gender-Affirming Care

March 23, 2022
Gender affirm care

Ryan Health is committed to offering gender-affirming care that delivers a gender-inclusive practice for our patients. That means we treat you — however you define who you are — with respect and dignity. Gender affirming care means healthcare without judgment.

“Gender-affirming care is a new focus for Ryan Health,” says Zehra Siddiqui DO, Medical Director at Ryan Chelsea-Clinton. “We want to make sure that we’re being as open and welcoming as possible for our patients.”

Gender-affirming care began at Ryan Chelsea-Clinton (RCC) informally in 2018. The center had patients who were transitioning, and they started referring others to RCC. Eventually, an internal workgroup team decided to develop a more focused effort on gender affirming care for all of Ryan Health.

“Gender-affirming care means you are treated with respect for who you are when you come here for mental health treatment. It’s not just support for patients who are transitioning,” says Judith Rosen, LCSW, CASAC and Behavioral Health Integration therapist at Ryan Chelsea-Clinton.

The first step, says Dr. Siddiqui, is to become a gender-inclusive practice. “Everyone from the front desk to the providers needs training,” she says. “We’re posting our pronouns and asking patients for theirs. We’re putting information on our website. There’s a huge disparity for the LGBTQ+ community in the way healthcare is set up. Healthcare is gendered, so many members of the community feel uncomfortable. They don’t interact, and then don’t get the care they need.”

Gender-affirming care from a mental health perspective is offered through the Behavioral Health Integration program.

“It’s very important to have therapists who are gender-affirming but also trauma informed,” says Rosen. “Trans folks can face challenges like bullying and discrimination that can lead to stress, anxiety and depression, especially for young people. They can face discrimination and rejection from their families.

“Being transgender is not a mental health condition,” she continued. “Therapy is a critical component of the transitioning process for those who need it, but not everyone does. We’re here to show support.”

Gender affirming care also means creating a safe space and listening, not judging. That’s the message Arleigh Salce gives her patients. Salce is a nurse practitioner at one of Ryan Health’s school-based health centers near RCC.

“We’re making the school-based centers a place where students can feel safe and get the resources they need,” she says. “We’re seeing an increasing need for gender-affirming care and LGBTQ+ resources. We need to be the place where they can ask questions, raise awareness, and give practical guidance on things like starting PrEP.”

Students can receive care at school-based centers, or Ryan Health centers if parents give one-time consent. Students over the age of 13 who need reproductive services can be seen without the need for parental consent at any Ryan Health center.

“Kids might want to come to Ryan Health centers for privacy,” says Alberto Bruno, a PrEP care technician at Ryan Health. “Kids know what’s best for them, and we try to meet them where they are. That could be the website, a meeting over FaceTime, or the school-based center.”

Bruno underscores telling transitioning or questioning students that therapy is just guidance. It doesn’t mean they have a mental health problem.

Dr. Siddiqui notes that moving into the schools serves an immense and growing need and highlights that there are many aspects of gender affirming care.

“Gender-affirming care, no matter where it’s happening, is a gender supportive initiative,” she says. “It’s mental health, medical care, and legal issues.”

The next step for Ryan Health’s gender affirming healthcare initiative is to continue rolling out staff training, and then to establish support groups. One larger initiative that will take time is adapting electronic medical records. That will require coordination of medical facilities, the insurance industry, and many other entities.

Dr. Siddiqui encourages feedback from patients on how we can improve care. “We’re trying our best at Ryan Health, but there are a lot of social systemic barriers that make it tougher than it should be,” Dr. Siddiqui says. “Give us some time and let us know where we’re falling short.”

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