Transhealth’s rapid growth continues: 2,000 patients served, staff quadrupled to meet demand

By MERCY LINGLE

For the Gazette

Published: 08-03-2023 9:17 AM

When Transhealth opened in 2021, it sought to unlock health care for the trans community, not only in this region but from further afield.

More than two years later, one of the country’s first standalone, trans-led independent trans health care centers is doing just that. The nonprofit recently announced that it has served over 2,000 unique patients and community members — a total that includes mostly patients but also people who are helped through support groups, drop-in community space, and a free community closet.

The center has already quadrupled its staff, going from 13 two years ago to 50 today, and is actively seeking additional health care providers and staff necessary to increase capacity, with the goal of accepting new adult primary care and mental health patients as soon as possible.

“Transhealth is showing the world what health care can be,” CEO Dallas Ducar said when asked about the goals of the organization.

Transhealth offers gender-affirming hormonal, primary, and mental health care for all ages. The center also offers educational programs for service providers, has launched social groups such as the BIPOC-centered “Joy Group,” and held community celebration events at the Bombyx Center for Arts and Equity.

One new initiative is Transhealth’s Gender-Affirming Care Access Program, which enables health care providers and mental health clinicians to ask questions about the care of trans and gender-diverse patients and receive a response from Transhealth’s gender-affirming care experts. This service, which recently went live, is available to licensed professionals in Massachusetts.

Through this service, Transhealth, according to its website, hopes to increase all Massachusetts health care providers’ capacity to deliver “compassionate, gender-affirming care.” The Blue Cross Shield Foundation funds it.

“Nursing schools, medical schools, and other clinical training programs are not adequately preparing clinicians to care for trans and gender-diverse patients,” Ducar said in a statement announcing the program. “That’s why this program is so critical. Every question asked and every peer-to-peer conversation that takes place creates a ripple effect that will enhance our state’s capacity to deliver the kind of compassionate, affirming care that every person deserves.”

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It’s estimated that there are over 45,000 trans and gender-diverse people living in Massachusetts.

Transhealth has also recently launched TranshealthRX to give patients more affordable access to medications.

Transhealth’s founding

Transhealth was founded by local community members frustrated by the lack of accessible health care for trans individuals in western Massachusetts. Ducar said that the concept for the clinic was “rooted in many years of attempts to get access to good community health care.” The original team of providers was tired of having to drive two to three hours for quality health care.

In order to set up a local option, they first launched a “Plan and Act for Transgender Health” project. The goal was to find out what the need was in western Massachusetts for gender-diverse health care.

This project, completed in conjunction with the Fenway Institute, Cooley Dickinson Hospital and the Harvard Medical School, showed there was high demand and led to the center’s creation.

The staff consists of primarily local trans and gender-diverse individuals, including two doctors and a physician assistant, 11 nurses and nurse practitioners, six clinical technicians and 10 therapists and psychiatric nurse practicitioners.

“We were able to exceed our wildest dreams of what this could become,” said Ducar.

Nowadays, some patients at Transhealth cross state lines to get their health care. Considering the original goal of the clinic was to make health care more accessible so that people would not need to cross state lines, this fact demonstrates the ongoing need for gender-affirming health care.

As Transhealth expands, Ducar said the clinic plans to put energy into researching barriers to providing quality health care for nonwhite individuals. Transhealth is currently in a planning phase, trying to figure out how to become an anti-racist organization.

According to Ducar, Transhealth is primarily concerned with providing “good, patient-centered care,” but they are, as an organization, inherently interested in activism. Ducar never expected the staff at Transhealth to be consulted by policymakers in government, but that has happened.

Moreover, Transhealth has deliberately chosen which information about the clinic to share online. The center doesn’t publicize its location, other than to say they are located in western Massachusetts. While this region has been supportive, Ducar noted there will always be concerns about the safety of Transhealth’s staff and patients, especially when politicians use the rights of transgender individuals as a “weapon” in attempts to rally people around a common enemy.

“I believe that the attacks on trans rights are a losing battle,” Ducar said. As a person who has lived in southern states including Arizona and Virginia, she said that the average southern family is not talking about trans rights at their kitchen table, contrary to the frequency of negative depictions of transgender individuals by some politicians.

As for this region, Ducar says people are “totally” support of the Transhealth mission.

“I believe that this is health care that everyone deserves,” Ducar said.

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