New program aims at supporting rural transgender people in Central VA
A group of Central Virginia doctors has taken steps to improve the lives of transgender people with a new program and network called the Transgender Health Alliance of Central Virginia.
In September 2014, PFlag Blue Ridge, UVA Teen & Young Adult Health Center and Thrive Healthcare partnered to form an alliance which hopes helps transgender individuals find health care providers for their specific needs.
Karen Barker, board member with PFlag Blue Ridge, said before the alliance was formed, her organization received three to ten inquiries per month from transgender individuals and their parents looking for referrals for health services.
“We recognized the need and decided to get together and form a cohesive community alliance to address the issues that we see around transgender health needs,” Barker said.
It is difficult, especially in conservative and rural Central Virginia, for transgender people to obtain information on what services they are eligible for and who can provide those services. Finding care is especially challenging for people who are lower income and do not have health insurance or for those who have transgender service exclusions in their health insurance plans.
Even many health care providers lack information about transgender health needs, according to Dr. Christine Burt Solorzano, assistant professor of pediatrics in the division of endocrinology at the University of Virginia, and founding member of the alliance.
Dr. Burt Solorzano helps train local health care providers on the medical needs of the transgender community.
“It was partly my idea to do the training because of a provider calling me and saying ‘I’ve never seen this before I have no idea what to do. Do you know where I send this patient or how they can get help,’” she said.
Barker said although there is not currently many providers that can address the needs of the transgender community, many of them would like to learn.
“There are a lot of providers who are interested and willing, but they just are not quite fully comfortable because they just don’t have the training,” Barker said.
Dr. Burt Solorzano said the alliance works with these health care providers to give transgender people the best care possible.
“What I’m trying to do is to go out and talk to primary care providers about transgender so that they understand how folks are identified and what their particular needs are and how we can partner to bring them the best medical care and mental health care that they deserve,” Burt Solorzano said.
Trans-health services are fairly new to the area. According to Barker, transgender individuals had to go out of state for their needs just a few years ago.
Now there is a clinic in Charlottesville.
Burt Solorzano said the change was inevitable.
“I think whenever you’re part of an academic institution or a bigger institution, change sometimes comes slowly just for logistical reasons,” Burt Solorzano said.
The THACV modeled their clinic after several others that exist within the state and around the country. Dr. Lisa Griffin, a psychologist in the Richmond area spoke with the alliance about her experience opening a clinic in rural North Carolina.
The Charlottesville clinic began with eight spots for appointments for Dr. Burt Solorzano per day and another eight spots for a general pediatrician. They have since added a second endocrinologist to handle another eight appointments per day. The alliance expects they will have to increase their clinic hours in the near future.
Burt Solorzano said the local health community has been very open to their presence and the services they provide.
“It was considered a necessary and innovative way of providing health care to our patients. So I was very pleased that as far as ideological problems, there really weren’t any,” Burt Solorzano said. “I think going out into the community and talking to the primary care providers, the folks who have had patients understand better why they need to learn about it. I think the ones who are more close-minded about it just haven’t met somebody yet.”
The alliance currently has six transgender health care providers in their database, which they’re confident will expand. The THACV is open to any new members working for the transgender community.
“We’d really like to focus on legislative advocacy and working to remove healthcare exclusions for transgender individuals. That’s something that is really important,” said Barker. “I guess the biggest message we’d like to get out there right now is to encourage people to ask their healthcare provider to list themselves in the database and if their healthcare provider doesn’t feel knowledgeable enough, to come to us, talk to us and we can help them with information and training or whatever they feel that they might need.”
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