March is LGBT Health Month

If I may be permitted to open this commentary from the announcement of New York State Empire State Pride Agenda’s website regarding March being LGBT (lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender) Health Month:

“This year’s theme, ‘Access to Care,’ speaks to the need for increased access to health services for LGBT New Yorkers as well as the new options available under the Affordable Care Act. Awareness around the need for increased resources for the health and well-being of LGBT New Yorkers is more important than ever. More work is needed to get providers to deliver culturally competent care and for insurers to stop discriminating against transgender and gender non-confirming New Yorkers.”

So what does this mean to those of us living here in the North Country? Recently a transgender woman of my association was looking for medical health care here in the North Country to supervise her hormone treatment therapy. Contacting the endocrinologist in Malone and without first divulging her transgender status, she was told, “Oh yes, we are accepting new patients. You will need to provide your current medical history as well as a referral letter.” This transgender woman contacted her primary care provider to have the necessary medical history faxed to this doctor as well as the referral letter from her therapist.

Calling back to confirm the required documents were received, and looking to schedule an appointment, she was asked another series of questions, to which at this time she stated she was transgender, did not have any thyroid condition and only needed the doctor to supervise her hormone replacement therapy. The doctor’s office staff person stated, “Oh, we do not treat people like you; we do not treat transgender people. You will need to locate someone else.”

Surprise and shock set in. Isn’t monitoring hormone levels in patients part of what an endocrinologist is trained to do? Asking who else in the local area would take on her case, the office staff person had no clue: “Perhaps you could try Burlington, Watertown or Albany.” Obviously there was no support, empathy or help forthcoming here. These larger area hospitals might be necessary for major medical issues but not something as simple as monitoring a patient’s hormone levels.

Looking for a more local physician, this transgender lady contacted physicians in our local Saranac Lake / Lake Placid area. One female doctor (through the relay of her office staff – funny how one can never get a doctor to come to a phone and actually “speak” to a patient or potential patient anymore!) stated that the doctor did not know enough regarding this issue and therefore would not take this patient on. Again, it seems to me that the role of a doctor is to keep up with current trends and issues in the health care field, and I can surely attest to the ever-growing awareness of the transgender community over this past decade.

Talking to doctors in the Adirondack Medical Center, it seems there is no local endocrinologist on staff to see local patients and there are no local doctors willing to take on transgender patients. Seems the same holds true both in Malone as well as Plattsburgh! The endocrinologist in Plattsburgh is closing down his office and moving out of state, again leaving a huge health care hole in our area.

Quoting again from the Pride Agenda’s website:

“LGBT New Yorkers face inequities when it comes to our health and well-being and ability to access care, including:

“LGB adults in poverty are much less likely to access health care than their heterosexual counterparts with similar, limited resources.

“31.2 percent of gay and lesbian people, and 26 percent of bisexual people, in poverty lack health insurance.

“Fewer than half of 18-24-year-old lesbian and gay women have ever had a pap test, compared with two-thirds of heterosexual women in that age group.

“Almost half (49 percent) of white LGB youth smoke, compared to just 17.1 percent of their heterosexual counterparts.”

“Older LGB adults experience depression almost twice as often than their heterosexual counterparts.

“Gay, lesbian and bisexual young people are at high risk for bulimic symptoms, especially young gay men; one in five have vomited or used laxatives for weight control in the past 30 days.”

“LGBT New Yorkers do not currently have equal access to health care, and often the care we do receive is not delivered compassionately or even competently,” said Erik Libey, associate director of LBGT health initiatives for Trillium Health. “We can change that, but to do so we need health and human service providers who are well trained and invested in our health, and we need our leaders in state and federal government to endorse policy changes and resource allocation that is explicitly inclusive of LGBT people and their families.”

As all of our regional medical centers pride themselves on their health care services, I respectfully request the administrative staff at Adirondack Medical Center, Alice Hyde Medical Center and CVPH, in assisting our local community in the wide diversity of patients they serve, to find within their vast medical staff resources at least one physician willing and able to assist the local/regional transgender community in their medical health needs without having to travel vast distances for what should be a fairly simple health care need. Surely if a genetic woman went to her primary physician or gynecologist for hormone replacement treatment, she would be treated immediately and without hesitation. Why is this same service not available to transgender patients? How does one spell “discrimination” or “denial of basic health care services” based on gender identity?

Saranac Lake takes great pride and loudly boasts of its health care heritage. Where is this basic service for our local LGBT community when it is so desperately needed? The LGB community and especially now the transgender community are not looking for “more” or “special” rights; we are only looking for EQUAL health care already extended to other members of our society.

Kelly Metzgar lives in Saranac Lake.