It is a sad reality that affirming and inclusive health care can be very limited for transgender and gender-nonconforming Ohioans. Many communities are underserved and patients may face discrimination or ignorance in a health care setting.
One organization in Southwest Ohio is working to change all that and provide their transgender residents with safer health care options.
Last October, Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio Region (PPSWO) launched brand new gender-affirming hormone therapy services in four of their five health centers in the region. After overwhelmingly positive feedback from the initial 39 transgender patiences served, the organization is ready to welcome more.
To learn about these new services and how PPSWO supports trans and nonbinary patiences in an affirming way, The Buckeye Flame caught up with PPSWO’s President & CEO Kersha Deibel and their Medical Director Dr. Sharon Liner.
When people think of Planned Parenthood, they probably don’t immediately think of trans care. But in actuality, you’ve worked with transgender patients for decades. Can you tell us what trans care has looked like for you, and how this particular service came about?
Deibel: As health care providers, educators and advocates, Planned Parenthood for 90+ years has been committed to serving all people in our communities with care and respect. We are proud to provide sexual and reproductive health care and education to the transgender community across the country — including cancer screenings, STI testing and treatment, birth control, and now, hormone therapy, as well as sex education that includes all identities and experiences.
We know that when people are truly cared for, they make their lives, their families, and their communities better and healthier. Transgender folks, like everyone else, have a fundamental need for quality health care and sex education, and they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.
Making our health centers a safe and supportive environment is valuable for all patients and we strive to make sure the gender identity of our transgender patients is acknowledged, respected and understood. This means creating an environment that affirms their gender identity, understanding and communicating the kinds of care they need and using inclusive language that acknowledges the full spectrum of gender identities.
And for any readers who may be unfamiliar, can you also briefly define hormone therapy and what that process is like?
Liner: Gender-Affirming Hormone Therapy (GAHT) is prescribing hormones to help a person develop characteristics that are more in line with their gender identity. Our process at PPSWO is that all new patients who schedule for GAHT will first meet virtually with our patient navigator. This allows us to gather all the information needed to assure that when they come into the health center to meet with the medical team, we can focus on the patient’s needs. While this is what GAHT is at its core, there is so much more to assure that our patients all feel safe and represented in our centers as well as in all aspects of their lives.
Are there any restrictions to accessing your program? Age requirements?
Liner: At this time, we do not see patients under the age of 18 for this service . We are fortunate that there are already excellent programs to care for this population in our local children’s hospitals and we are happy to see patients who have aged out of their care. Insured patients may be able to use their coverage but should check with their providers. At the first visit with the care navigator will review insurance and payment options to assure access to our care
Particularly for Southwest Ohio residents, what have been the challenges and barriers to healthcare for trans individuals, and how does this program help eliminate those challenges and barriers?
Deibel: The unfortunate reality is that, in addition to economic and geographic barriers, the transgender community faces additional, unique challenges when it comes to getting the care they need. Some healthcare environments can be unwelcoming to transgender and gender nonconforming patients — from forms to fill out, to the language used in waiting rooms, to insurance coverage, to the lack of understanding of transgender identities among staff.
Ultimately access was one of the greatest barriers that pushed us to pursue a role in our community as a provider for this care. In Ohio, the LGBT Movement Advancement Project scores our state low in sexuality and gender-based equality. We see this score reflected in the experiences of transgender Ohioans seeking health care.
We have been working toward providing this service to our patients for a couple of years as we know that, despite there being wonderful providers already offering this care, there is still a need to bridge the gap for those who have been left out of representation in health care. For decades we have been caring for and working with transgender and nonbinary patients for reproductive and sexual healthcare, but we knew it was time to step up and see what we could do to offer care unique to gender-affirming needs.
And what are the steps that your organization takes to ensure that trans and nonbinary individuals feel safe when utilizing your services?
Liner: Our priority prior to launching this new service was to ensure our entire staff – from our call center, reception, medical staff, security, billing, etc. – were all provided the necessary training to help create a safe, welcoming and inclusive environment for our trans and nonbinary patients. Prior to launching, our staff attended a focused 3-part training module, webinars and online learning courses, and even using telehealth to attend sessions and observe care with experts. Additionally, we know, based on research, that those who identify in gender minorities, or outside of the gender binary, are more likely to have experienced traumatic stressors when seeking care. Because of this, staff in Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio have been trained to create as comfortable of a space as possible when caring for patients who find these settings traumatic.
That’s all really fantastic! So, if someone is out there and interested in accessing this new service, how can they reach out to you?
Deibel: Those interested can reach out on our website using our Transgender and Non-Binary Health Care Services page. There, they can find information to call to schedule an intake appointment or book an appointment online. They can also find resources that further explain the service expansion and all it entails.