In the roughly 18 months since RWJ Barnabas Health opened the state’s first and only designated clinic for LGBTQ residents, more than 900 patients have walked through it’s doors seeking specialized services and primary health care. Among them was Former San Francisco Resident, Joe Wilson, who explained how difficult it was to find a doctor when he moved to New Jersey.
“It was really hard, I mean I had some friends – their doctor was retiring, other friends went to Philadelphia or New York, so I basically went to Google to tried and find something.”
Wilson stumbled upon the PROUD Family Health Center in Somerville. It operates out of a Family Practice clinic at RWJ University Hospital Somerset, with limited hours on Monday evenings, between 6-9 p.m. On Monday, Hospital officials announced an expansion, a permanent space for the center and appointments offered three full days a week.
“One of the things we were told is, we can refer patients out. But they really like to come for one-stop shopping. So we’ll add behavioral therapists, we’ll be adding surgeons who will be rotating through, endocrinologists that will be rotating through. Any specialists they might need will be right here at the center,” said RWJ University Hospital Somerset president, Tony Cava.
PROUD will also hire a patient navigator and an advanced practice nurse. Hoping to get patients in the doors quicker and connected to resources faster.
“They’ll help you navigate your health care. It’s really important to have that relationship. That’s what I miss about California is my doctor because leaving that it was like my family,” said Wilson.
“We know that LGBTQ people continue to face significant health disparities because we continue to face stigma and discrimination in our daily lives. That stigma and discrimination can lead to increased rates of anxiety and depression,” said Aaron Potenza, director of programs, at Garden State Equality.
State Health Commissioner Shereef Elnahal is asking RWJ to expand residency requirements, so that new doctors will have training in an LGBTQ facility. Residents should expect to see more expansion in the coming years- especially at the 11 other RWJ Barnabas Health sites, explained Elnahal.
“What I’ve asked the folks here and the management team to do is to give us that playbook so we can post it online and recognize it. So that more systems start to voluntarily adopt it.”
The hospital is in the process of hiring additional staff and moving to the new location across the hall. The president says they’ll begin offering the expanded hours, sometime this summer.