Prizm News / August 19, 2019 / By Ilona Westfall

The Akron Children’s Hospital opens a Center for Gender Affirming Medicine

It’s a sobering reality that transgendered youths are at a higher risk of homelessness and suicide than their peers. With a new multi-disciplinary approach to treating trans adolescents, the Center for Gender Affirming Medicine at Akron Children’s Hospital is poised to help address that disparity. While the Center has always treated LGBTQ+ youth and started offering gender-affirming hormone therapy in June, this new approach offers everything from counseling on bullying to help navigating insurance to pay for the therapy. Prizm spoke to the Center’s medical director, Dr. Crystal Cole, about the importance of this program. 

What are the benefits of receiving these services before reaching adulthood?

The most effective way to prevent things like homelessness and suicide for LGBTQ+ youth is by having an affirming environment from your family, community, schools, and your medical providers. We wanted to be an affirming clinic for those who identify as LGBTQ+, but particularly those from the transgender community, and provide support for them and their families, and resources they may not know are available. If you’re a transgender individual, if a reputable medical source is able to provide things such as puberty suppression when you’re in the early stages of puberty or gender affirming hormones while you’re still in ideally a supportive environment in your teens, that allows you to live a more normal lifestyle and feel like you are the gender that you truly are. Being able to live out more time, especially in your youth, as your true gender has a lot of impact on patients’ self-esteem and mental health.

How will offering a multi-disciplinary approach help patients and their families?

It’s difficult sometimes for a primary care doctor because they don’t often have the resources that we do. Whenever we see a new patient we have a long initial meeting to coordinate their care. The patient meets with a social worker who addresses if there are any school needs such as using bathrooms or sports participation, or if there are any legal needs like seeking out legal name change. A lot of insurance plans are covering gender affirming care, but certain ones are more comprehensive than others. So we can help navigate that process. We also have a mental health therapist that meets with patients. Being transgender doesn’t require you to have a therapist. But we’ve noticed that a lot of patients will have other extraneous things going on in their lives such as bullying and whatnot. Having someone that they can voice their concerns with can help. The fact that you’re meeting all of these people at the same time really helps families. We give them a lot of information on safe practices for people who are transgender, support groups for both patients and families, and churches or places of worship so they can find affirming places throughout their community that they may not be aware of.

What is the program’s ultimate goal?

We currently have about 60 patients and since the announcement came out about our program we’ve had about 15 new patients scheduled. The important thing is we meet families and patients where they’re at. Not every patient is looking for hormones or puberty suppression. We’re not here to encourage that necessarily. We just want them to be able to get their needs addressed, whatever they may be, in a safe environment. We’re here to help children grow up to be healthy adults just like any other pediatricians. We answer all of your questions, address where your needs are and help you address those needs to the best of our ability. We’re a resource just like any other service in the hospital.

Appointments can be made through the Adolescent Medicine department, located in the Considine Professional Building. The Center sees patients from ages 7 to 25. For an appointment, call 330-543-8538.

Ilona Westfall is a Cleveland-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Cleveland Magazine and FreshWater Cleveland. Follow her on Twitter at @IlonaWestfall.