January 6, 2017/Nursing/Clinical Nursing

New Care Centers Are Dedicated to Serving LGBT Community

Nurse helps provide a sensitive, safe environment

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Two new patient care centers at Cleveland Clinic highlight the health system’s commitment to meeting the unique healthcare needs of specific patient populations. In June, Cleveland Clinic’s Center for LGBT Care opened within primary care practices in Chagrin Falls and Lakewood, Ohio. “The centers are designed to provide the primary care that everyone needs in a safe and welcoming environment, with an understanding of the LGBT population,” says Peggy Gallagher, RN, team lead and complex care coordinator at both centers.

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Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals have unique health needs and have traditionally been an underserved part of the community. National research shows that LGBT patients are at an increased risk for substandard or insensitive care, which contributes to healthcare disparities, including the following:

  • LGBT individuals are more likely to delay regular medical care.
  • They are more likely to be dependent on alcohol, tobacco or drugs.
  • Gay men and transgender patients are at a higher risk of sexually transmitted infections.
  • Lesbian women are more likely to be overweight and less likely to have regular cancer screenings.
  • LGBT youth are more likely to experience significant mental health problems.

Cleveland Clinic’s Center for LGBT Care offers comprehensive, compassionate care for all patients regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Services geared toward specific patient population

Because LGBT clinics are uncommon, patients travel to Cleveland Clinic’s Center for LGBT Care from throughout Northeast Ohio, as well as Pennsylvania and New York. The two locations serve approximately 300 patients, and numbers are growing.

James Hekman, MD, designed and launched the Center for LGBT at the Chagrin Falls Family Health Center and is Medical Director of Cleveland Clinic Lakewood. He works alongside Cecile Unger, MD, Medical Director of Cleveland Clinic Transgender Surgery and Medicine, as well as Gallagher and a team of seven other healthcare providers whose specialties range from transgender surgery to mental health services.

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Among the services offered are the following:

  • Primary and preventive care, including routine physicals, screenings and immunizations
  • Behavioral health services
  • Hormone therapy
  • Pre- and post-surgery care
  • HIV care management and expanded sexually transmitted disease care

“The healthcare needs of LGBT patients are similar to those of all patients,” says Gallagher. “However, a major difference is the environment and setting in which the care is provided. We offer culturally-competent, sensitive interactions with patients.”

Patients express gratitude for quality care

That sensitivity has made a difference. One patient, a gay man, was referred to the Center for LGBT Care in Chagrin Falls after learning he was HIV positive. He recalls, “I was at my wit’s end. But [Gallagher] called me at home before I even went to the office, and she calmed my nerves. She explained everything and reassured me. It was wonderful!”

Another patient is a 62-year-old male transitioning to female, who says she has wanted to be a female since the age of three. She was close to suicide prior to seeking behavioral health services at the Center for LGBT Care. She now meets with Tina Reed, RMA, EMT, Transgender Patient Navigator, who she calls a “godsend.” The patient is slated for vaginoplasty surgery next spring.

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Just as in other Cleveland Clinic facilities, patient care is a team approach. “We want our patients to do well mentally as well as physically,” says Gallagher. She and the other healthcare providers often partner with specialists from digestive diseases, cardiology and other areas to ensure patients’ needs are met.

Gallagher, who has worked with HIV patients for more than 15 years, hopes culturally-sensitive care for LGBT patients becomes the norm at facilities nationwide. “I urge all nurses and hospitals to create a more welcoming, safe and inclusive environment for LGBT patients and their families,” she says.

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