First Choice Health Centers Opens its New Center for LGBT Health Services
As we’ve covered in the past, the process of facilitating healthcare for the LGBT community is just that: a process. Fortunately, this process continues at Connecticut’s very own First Choice Health Centers! The FCHC is proud to open its newest center in East Hartford, one with an emphasis on LGBTQ+ health services. Their mission to address the social and economic barriers to health and wellness is especially urgent for the LGBT community, for whom access to healthcare can be particularly fraught.
We spoke about barriers to health and cultural competency with FCHC’s LGBTQ+ Health Services Physician Assistant Jacqueline Jordan, PA-C. The center is newly open, located on the first floor of 809 Main Street in East Hartford. Call (860) 610-6300 to schedule your first appointment today!
CT VOICE: Many people, both in and out of the LGBT community, might not understand what it means for community health to be LGBT-affirming. And yet, as more and more queer people come out, it’s becoming increasingly necessary! When LGBT-affirming services are introduced, how does community health improve?
JJ: Well, community healthcare improves significantly when we have providers who understand the needs of the communities they serve, and the challenges their patients face on a daily basis. It’s really important to have a safe space, where people can be completely open without feeling judged in any way. And as far as behavioral health goes: when LGBT people are engaged in care, outcomes of anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions improve, and rates of suicide and self-harm decrease. It’s easier for people to open up about past traumas and concerns related to their mental health to a provider who can really understand the experience of marginalization. This is part of why our clinical social worker, Maris Dillman, is so wonderful.
If patients don’t feel comfortable sharing details about their lives to their providers, they may not get the right screening tests or diagnostic tests that they need. One example is HIV screening, something we at FCHC are working to increase in our practice. If a patient isn’t comfortable discussing their sexual history with a provider, who might feel they’re being judged, the patient might leave out important information. That can really impact their outcome and the outcomes of others, as well.
CT VOICE: The FCHC places an emphasis on the social and economic barriers to health and wellness that afflict communities in Connecticut. What barriers to health and wellness impact Connecticut’s LGBT community in particular?
JJ: The LGBTQ+ community is disproportionately affected by homelessness, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, discrimination, and many other social stressors. When people are facing these challenges, it’s really hard to prioritize their mental and physical health and take care of themselves in a way that keeps themselves healthy.
That is why we’re working to integrate lots of different services, such as behavioral health, dental, psychiatry, all different types of services, so that our patients’ healthcare is all in the same space. They can also get help with social concerns, such as housing, transportation, and medication assistance. We have a sliding scale fee according to our patients’ income and whether or not they’re insured, so we can remove as many barriers to health and wellness as possible. Not all of our services are in the LGBTQ+ center itself, but all are accessible to patients who visit us. Everyone will be treated with the same kindness and respect that they’d receive here.
CT VOICE: What else can a patient expect from a typical experience at the LGBTQ+ location?
JJ: When you come in, you’re greeted at the front desk and we’ll confirm some basic information. Anyone whose name or gender marker is different than what is listed on their ID can let us know, either at the front desk or in a private exam room. Once they’re in the room, the medical assistant will confirm some more information, ask their preferred pronouns. On the first visit we take information about sex assigned at birth, sexual orientation and gender identity, and we update our records yearly.
The medical assistant takes vitals, confirms medical history, and then the provider comes in and asks the patient why they’re here. At our center, we do primary care and infectious disease specialty. Typically I do a lot of physicals. The patient can expect to talk about their complete medical and social history so that we can identify any special needs they might have. We take particular care here to keep in mind screening tests for LGBT patients that other providers might not be well-versed in, such as anal pap tests for people at increased risk of rectal cancer. We do a lot of STI testing, so as far as that goes, we take complete comprehensive sexual history so that we can identify if a patient is at risk for certain infections. Our comprehensive screening can be bloodwork, urine testing for chlamydia and gonorrhea, throat swabs, rectal swabs—we test all of the areas that could be infected. Something we’re aiming for is to identify patients who are at increased risk for HIV, so that we can have a discussion about PrEP, which is pre-exposure prophylaxis for HIV. We’d like to raise awareness of the fact that PrEP is free to anyone covered by Husky, Connecticut’s Medicaid program. That information could go a long way!
CT VOICE: You also offer services for transgender patients, such as hormone therapy. What is the importance of addressing the barriers transgender patients face in Connecticut?
JJ: There aren’t too many places where transgender patients in Connecticut can get the care they need and receive gender-affirming hormones, especially patients who are uninsured. A lot of transgender patients I’ve spoken to report feeling uncomfortable in healthcare settings, especially when they’re misgendered or asked inappropriate questions about their bodies. I’ve even heard of transgender patients being denied healthcare or openly discriminated against. Given these barriers, it’s really no wonder that for instance, a transgender man who has a cervix might not feel comfortable visiting a gynecologist for a cervical cancer screening as often as necessary. It’s our goal at FCHC to make our patients feel as comfortable as possible, so that we can keep them safe and healthy.
CT VOICE: Now that the FCHC has moved into its new LGBTQ+ space in East Hartford, what are your goals for the upcoming year? What positive changes do you hope to make in the LGBT community’s health?
JJ: Our goal for the new center is to create an environment which is welcoming and culturally competent. We want to decrease barriers to preventative care, treatment and behavioral health. We are really hoping to increase linkage to care with our Infectious Diseases provider, Dr. Lorena Polo, for patients with HIV, Hepatitis C and other STIs. Ultimately, we just want to make our patients feel safe, supported and heard, and give them the best healthcare we can.