One of the biggest challenges trans, non-binary and gender diverse individuals face when it comes to health care is finding providers who are both welcoming and knowledgeable about their unique health needs. Edmonton’s Wellness Centre is working to fill that gap by delivering accessible services to individuals at every stage of their journey.
Opened on September 23, 2020, the Centre’s multidisciplinary team of clinicians and allied professionals encompasses services such as psychiatry, family medicine, endocrinology, urogynecology, gynecology, psychology (both individual and group offerings), nursing, social work and peer support. It takes a wrap-around approach to trans and gender-diverse health care that has been desperately needed for far too long. The Centre is co-located with the Millcreek Medi Drugs, a 2SLGBTQ+ friendly pharmacy, at 9117 82 Avenue, Edmonton and serves Alberta patients north of Red Deer.
Working with family doctors, whenever possible
For Dr. Mark Armstrong, a family physician who works at the Centre, the two to three-year wait for people to be assessed in order to start hormone therapy was unacceptable. “And that wait is dependent on where you are and if you know the proper avenue to take. We see patients from across northern Alberta and can expedite the assessment process to get people on the right path.”
He explains that because the Centre doesn’t have family doctors available all the time, they can’t really provide 24/7 family medicine, but they are trying to establish a network of family doctors who are gender-affirming. “The goal is that once they’ve been started on hormones, we’d like to be able to pass them back to their regular family doctors and if they don’t have a family doctor, we’ll try to help them find someone that will support them.”
Building a gender-affirming network
In addition to the medical, psychological and social work support, the Centre also works with a gender-affirming pharmacist, offers voice and mannerisms coaching and even has a medical aesthetician on staff who offers electrolysis and laser hair removal. Most services are offered at no cost or at an amount that’s much lower than market value. “We’re always looking to expand and try and build a network of affirming care providers,” explains Allison, the Centre’s clinical administrator. “And if we don’t have it here, we want to be able to send them to someone that will work well for them.”
Although physicians are encouraged to refer their patients to the Centre, people can also self-refer using a form on the website. Once they’ve completed the necessary paperwork, an intake appointment will be scheduled to explain the available supports and determine which is the best place to begin.
Whenever possible, the Centre tries to ensure the patient’s family physician stays involved. “A lot of our clients essentially have two family doctors,” says Allison. “They see someone here that monitors the hormones and someone who handles their other medical needs. We do share records with the primary family physician, as most people want their doctors to have the full picture, but if they request that we don’t share information, we honour that.”
So far, the Centre has served almost 1000 patients and hopes to continue expanding capacity to meet the needs of an extremely underserviced community. “Some people have been waiting years to see anyone,” says Allison. “We’re here to make sure they don’t have to keep waiting to get the care they need.”