By Briana Vannozzi
Nicole Brownstein is used to traveling the tri-state to find the health care she needs. Roughly 250,000 people in New Jersey identify as LGBTQIA, but there are still only a handful of medical clinics dedicated to their care.
“I had to travel for a therapist who was a gender therapist and understood my needs. I had to travel to find an endocrinologist who was versed and experienced,” she said.
Brownstein is one of the first patients at the newly opened PROUD Family Health office, part of Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset — the first hospital in the state to offer specialized primary care services for the LGBTQIA community.
“We do full family medicine, so we do pretty much any preventative care, we do OBGYN care, we do some minor procedures, office-based procedures, things like that, HIV care,” said Dr. Lalitha Hansch, program director for RWJ Somerset Family Practice.
Health care providers found thousands of New Jersey patients were spending hours traveling to New York or Philly, paying out of network costs to have their needs met. Many had experienced harassment, discrimination or an overall lack of knowledge from primary care providers.
“Our staff, particularly our family practices, are well competent, they’re culturally sensitive and they were trained. So that’s very important. A lot of transgender specify the reason they go out of the state, one is the access to care and number two is how competent our health care providers are. Are they sensitive, are they aware of using pronouns, do they understand the needs?” said Jackie Baras, transgender family support group for RWJ University Hospital Somerset.
“The doctors have refused to see them and it can be difficult when after you are with a doctor for many, many years to have them say, ‘I can’t treat you any more,'” Brownstein said.
Though that wasn’t the case for Brownstein, she can recall difficult stories of others facing needed exams for the gender with which they were born, and not how they identify. Last March, RWJ Somerset and the Pride Center of New Jersey began one of the first transgender family support groups here to help parents, spouses and partners understand and cope with their family member’s transformation.
“It’s going to be years before we truly understand just how many transgender individuals there are and I think putting a medical facility in the middle of New Jersey will go a long way in helping people,” Brownstein said.
PROUD stands for promoting, respect, outreach, understanding and dignity. And it’s open Monday evenings from 6 to 9 p.m.