After years of having to drive all over South Florida to access medical and mental health providers, the LGBTQ community in Miami and beyond now have a single place it can get healthy.
One of the first of its kind in the southeastern United States, the University of Miami Hospital proudly opened the LGBTQ Center for Wellness, Gender and Sexual Health. Here, the community can see doctors and social workers to address its unique and specialized needs.
“It all comes together under one roof, that way we can serve our patients a lot better,” said Lauren Foster, the center’s director of concierge. “We can provide a multitude of services for them and make their journey smooth.”
Although the center itself is brand new, the hospital opened a smaller clinic focused on transgender patients in 2016. It since then morphed to encompass the LGBTQ community, although most of the patients are transgender.
At the center, patients of all ages, genders and identities find a one-stop shop for their entire well being. Medical doctors are on staff to perform various surgeries and procedures for physical transition as well as HIV/AIDS treatment, while social workers are on hand to assist in a patient’s emotional and psychological health.
Related: SFGN's Transgender Special Issue
For transgender patients, it’s easy access to hormone services, top and bottom surgeries, facial feminization, and other important procedures. Plus, by having a staff that is trained in how to work with the LGBTQ community, patients don’t have to fear being misgendered or discussing sensitive topics with a clueless health professional.
Also, being in a hospital setting is a huge asset for the center.
“Gender affirmation surgery is major surgery that needs to be performed in a hospital setting rather than an ambulatory setting,” Dr. Christopher Salgado, a gender affirming surgeon, professor of surgery, and editor of “Gender Affirmation: Medical and Surgical Perspectives,” said in a press release from the hospital.
“At UMH, physicians and hospital staff provide continuous monitoring and are equipped to handle any situation that may arise. Being in a full-fledged hospital also helps ensure the best outcomes and recovery from surgery.”
The University of Miami Hospital is also one that has been recognized by the LGBTQ community for its inclusive healthcare. In 2015, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation named the hospital a “leader in LGBT healthcare equality.” Facilities earn this honor through the foundation’s healthcare equality index, which evaluates how inclusive the the practices and policies are for its patients, visitors, and employees. This includes nondiscrimination policies, visitation rights for same-sex partners, and staff being educated in LGBTQ health.
Not only is it convenient, but the center fills a void that was in Miami-Dade County for so long. Although the area is known for being LGBTQ friendly, the county does not have a pride center or the multitude of medical and social services that exist in Broward and Palm Beach counties.
Foster, who is a transgender woman, said before the center opened, she would have to commit to large parts of her day to drive to see doctors, including Dr. Salgado.
“It’s huge gift to the community to have this facility here for sure,” she said.
The other arm of the center is focusing on one’s mental, emotional, and psychological well being. Again LGBTQ people find that a plethora of social services and support groups are at the Pride Center in Wilton Manors and the Compass GLCC in Lake Worth — at best a long drive, but for others, an impossibility if they don’t have access to reliable transportation.
“It appears that there are still barriers in Miami as it relates to services for the LGBTQ community,” said Estin Kelly, the center’s executive director of quality, safety, and research. “There’s diverse amount of needs in our community.”
Kelly is working on creating a support group at the center, which not only would be a place for people to meet other LGBTQ people who might be going through the same struggles, but also for him to gauge what the needs are of the community. This will help the center improve its patient access and what services are needed.
“[We need to] rea slly understand what’s impacting our community,” he said. “Not just the transgender community, but our LGBTQ community and see what’s out there, what we can provide from a hospital or a leadership perspective.”
For transgender patients, not only is there a physical transition involved, but also a mental and psychological one. Kelly and other social workers help transgender people with blending into and coming out to their community, whether socially or at work, which is different depending on what stage a person is at in their life.
“LGBTQ issues are not necessarily the same as everyone else’s, really being sensitive to those needs and how to respond to them because conflicts can arise,” Kelly said.
In being open with the public, he said, there are the struggles of having someone look at you differently, and being comfortable with family members, friends and coworkers.
The end goal, he said, is to partner with other area organizations to harness each other’s strengths, such as the police department or nonprofits. Together, they can advocate for LGBTQ people holistically.
“[We’re] meeting the patients where they are. They’re in different stages and different levels that they’re dealing with right now, and understanding where they’re coming from,” Kelly said.
What: LGBTQ Center for Wellness, Gender and Sexual Health
Where: University of Miami West Building, 1321 NW 14th St. in Miami