LGBT Health in MA, CT, & RI: A special report on agencies that support inclusive health care

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January 6, 2011
By: Joe Siegel/TRT Reporter
For many members of the LGBT community, going to a doctor can be a nerve-wracking experience. The greatest fear is being exposed to a medical professional who has a bias against LGBTs. Fortunately, there are many health organizations which offer services specific to the New England LGBT community.

One of them is Boston’s Fenway Community Health, which treats over 70,000 patients and has 220 staff members. Fenway offers primary medical services, and provides referrals for patients regarding infectious disease, gynecology, psychiatry, gerontology, dermatology, nutrition, and podiatry. There are also dental and eye care services.

Complementary therapies (known as holistic medicine) are available include chiropractic, acupuncture, and massage therapy.

Fenway provides immunizations for Hepatitis A and B, meningitis, and tetanus.

There are also therapy and support groups and substance abuse counseling, as well as HIV counseling, testing, and referrals. Victims of domestic violence and hate crimes can seek guidance from Fenway’s Violence Recovery Program.

There is also a Transgender Health Program, Family and Parenting Services, and a GLBT Helpline and Peer Listening Line. For more information, go to www.fenwayhealth.org.

Another resource for LGBT patients is Partners Health Care, which includes several Boston-area hospitals, including Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital, North Shore Medical Center, Newton-Wellesley Hospital, McLean Hospital, and Faulkner Hospital. For information about medical providers and services, go to Brigham’s and Women’s Hospital’s website at www.partners.org.

In Western Massachusetts, Baystate Health, which includes Baystate Medical Center in Springfield and Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield, offers a range of services to the LGBT community.

The facility offers invitro fertilization for lesbian couples, primary care physicians, and a support group for the transgender community. The hospital also hosts a transgender health conference every year.

“We treat everyone with dignity and respect,” explained Visael “Bobby” Rodriguez, Chief Diversity Officer for Baystate Health.

Rodriguez said Baystate Health is always working to improve the level of services they provide to the LGBT community.

Baystate Health’s web site is www.baystatehealth.com.

Last June, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation gave Baystate Medical Center a perfect rating for the hospital’s inclusive policies and treatment of LGBT people.

Baystate Health’s LGBT employees are very visible in the community. They attend Northampton Pride every year and provide information about programs and services. The hospital is also the largest employer in Western Massachusetts.

In Connecticut, The Hartford Gay and Lesbian Health Collective (HGLHC) provides counseling and treatment for people suffering from HIV/AIDS, in addition to dental care, STD testing, support groups, breast examinations, and Hepatitis A and B screening and immunization.

HGLHC was founded in 1983 by a group of volunteer health professionals and supporters to address the medical needs of the LGBT community, particularly those suffering from HIV/AIDS. HGLHC also provides services to the transgender community.

“All of our staff is trained on transgender issues and all of our services cater to the transgender population as well,” said Drew Needham, who serves as a HIV counselor and grant writer for LHGLHC.

In Rhode Island, there isn’t a clinic or hospital which is devoted solely to LGBT health. The Rainbow Times solicited feedback from members of the LGBT community to learn where people go for medical services.

One respondent, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “For my PCP I go to Anchor Medical (1 Hoppin St., Providence). It is a very welcoming practice. I came out after being an established patient, but I’ve learned since that there was a doctor there before that had a large caseload of LGBT patients. He left that particular practice and most of his patients stayed.”

Michael Airhart, of Providence, said the lack of LGBT health services “is a real problem.”

“When I moved (here), I knew that the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association offered a referral service for gay-friendly doctors. That GLMA service had worked well for me before. But few of Rhode Island’s doctors have signed up. Then I talked with a referral desk at Lifespan. They wanted to be helpful, but the referrals weren’t very accurate — the docs seemed to have no special knowledge of LGBT patient needs.”

A national resource, the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA) is the world’s largest and oldest association of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) health care professionals. The GLMA is a non-profit organization devoted to ending homophobia in healthcare. GLMA represents more than 70,000 LGBT physicians and medical students, in addition to millions of LGBT patients across North America who seek equality in healthcare access and delivery.

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LGBT Health continued

GLMA promotes quality health services for HIV positive individuals and supports members challenged by discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. For more information about LGBT-friendly providers, GLMA recent studies, or other concerns, visit: www.glma.org.

Thomas Koch, from Providence, has been going to Fenway Community Health for his medical care.

“The main thing for me is I like being able to talk openly without feeling judgment – real or perceived,” Koch said. “As gay men, we sometimes have issues straight men don’t have or admit to. …In the 17 or so years I have been going to the Fenway, I have felt at ease discussing my concerns and know that the clinician understands me and is able to make recommendations based on their own experiences or their experience of working with the community. Recommendations which are not based on assumptions or stereotypes someone not familiar with the community might have.”

Koch doesn’t mind driving the extra distance to get the medical services he desires.

“I will likely stay with Fenway for the foreseeable future,” Koch said. “It has meant driving up there when I was not feeling well but I think having a gay or lesbian doctor has been worth it.”