By Brenda Flanagan
“I love my doctor, but you shouldn’t have to teach your doctor about how to take care of you,” said Andrea Bowen.
Yet transgender woman Bowen did just that.
“I actually had my new doctor in Jersey call the old doctor so they could have sort of an informal buddy system about how to like look at my hormone levels and take care of my body,” she said.
But a group of social activists gathered at Garden State Equality has volunteered to change that with a new website called mapandexpand.com. It’s the online presence of a new effort to create a statewide database of competent health care providers for the LGBT community. Bowen says it’s a critical need.
“We’ve had people call asking for gay doctors just because they’d rather have a doctor that understands their experience,” she said.
The website gathers data by inviting people to write about experiences with their doctors and therapists.
“You can tell stories about positive or negative health care experiences so we know where there may be areas of promise and areas of concern,” Bowen said.
Areas of concern — literally. Advocates say LGBT individuals may live in areas around New Jersey that offer few options for health care they need and end up going to New York or Philadelphia.
“It’s as important to be able to have competent health care at home. You shouldn’t have to travel, you should have to believe there is a particular specialty where your basic health needs are dependent upon a handful of providers. And that’s probably what this project I believe is about,” said Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, staff attorney with Lambda Legal.
“This is a major civil rights issue. We’re throwing down the gauntlet,” Bowen said.
The LGBT community worked hard for equal marriage rights in New Jersey. Now, where MapandExpand finds gaps in LGBT patient care, Garden State Equality will act to correct the lack.
“Equality means you can get the health care access that you need and that you don’t have to go to some sort of specialist for it. It is any primary care doctor you go to is going to ask you the right questions, is going to say the right things, is going to provide the care and safety that you need to live a good life,” said Bowen.
Atlantic Health System is on board, reaching out to providers.
“Where are there disparities, where are there gaps in access to care? And this obviously is one of those areas where there is a gap. Being able to know to provide quality competent care that is compassionate and acknowledges the needs of people is really a key component to what we do,” said Chris Kirk, director of mission development at Atlantic Health System.
Organizers of this project say it could take years to complete. They’ll vet medical providers and grow the database until they say members of the LGBT community can feel comfortable looking for competent health care.