In 2018, the Fenway Institute, Cooley Dickinson Health Care and Harvard Medical School conducted a planning study, the PATH Project (Plan and Act for Transgender Health), which evaluated the needs and experiences of the transgender and gender diverse populations in the western part of Massachusetts. It also looked at the services offered by regional health care organizations. The findings prompted the creation of Transhealth Northampton, which opened its doors in May 2021.
Dallas Ducar, MSN, APRN, and CEO of Transhealth Northampton, reported that Harry Cohen, the initial financial founder, had tired of driving two or three hours for gender-affirming care and sought resources closer to home. The results of the PATH Project confirmed the need for such services in the western part of the state.
Transhealth Northampton aims to “…create a space representative of our community,” and 100 percent of our budget goes to gender-affirming care, according to Ducar.
She pointed out that the organization is “rooted in the needs of the transgender and gender-diverse populations” and offers comprehensive care involving all aspects of life.
Ducar explained that the center is attempting to create a system of holistic care and has a chance to create a structure that respects the rights of all people and empowers them to be themselves. The model of healthcare that the founders have created is “a worthwhile endeavor and a unique experience for transgender and gender-diverse individuals,” she noted.
This model of healthcare is a “profound expression based on an individual story,” Ducar said. “This is a chance for the transgender community to show what health care can be. We are a referral source and help to educate, consult, and do creative things to improve gender-diverse care.”
More importantly, Ducar added that to ensure a welcoming space for patients, staff at Transhealth Northampton reflects the populations it serves.
Furthermore, Transhealth Northampton provides more than just clinical care, Ducar added. The center offers makeup classes, tax preparation assistance, and other non-medical services. In addition to clinical care, its pillars include research, education, and advocacy.
This concept of whole person care for those in the transgender and gender-diverse communities was once seen as “distant,” Ducar noted. The center now brings all aspects of health care together and is empowering and inclusive for the population its serves. Their patients have the “freedom to be where they are.”
Unlike many other organizations that are affiliated with a larger organization, Transhealth Northampton is “independent,” meaning that it is not “tethered to any other organization that might decide what our objectives are,” Ducar said. “This is powerful when it comes to clinical priorities.”
Additionally, this independent status reduces gatekeeping and increases accessibility. Transhealth Northampton has no prerequisites and does not require a patient see a primary care physician before scheduling an appointment with a mental health professional.
Community response to Transhealth Northampton has been very positive, according to Ducar. The center has received a huge outpouring of emails – its primary means of communication – confirming what staff already knew.
“This community is in dire need. A lot of people are looking for space where they can speak freely about gender and feel safe. We have created a trauma-informed space,” she said.
The organization continues to examine other needs in the area. Ducar reported that Transhealth Northampton is conducting a discovery phase to determine the needs of transgender Black, Brown and Native American individuals. The results will help the center understand how to address those needs and will also identify specific hiring goals dedicated to the community, she added.
Going forward, Transhealth Northampton is eager to collaborate on research projects and participate in educational initiatives with other organizations and entities.
Alex Keuroghlian, M.D, MPH, has worked for several years with the group that set up Transhealth Northampton. He is the director of the Division of Education and Training at The Fenway Institute, the National LGBTQIA+ Health Education Center, and the Evidence-Informed Interventions Coordinating Center for Technical Assistance.
He is also an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
The Fenway Institute sees patients from 1,000 zip codes and more than 25 states, according to Keuroghlian. He cited the tremendous need for programs for transgender and gender-diverse populations.
Keuroghlian noted that The Fenway Institute is invested in collaboratively supporting Transhealth Northampton. “People want to receive care where they live,” he said. “They don’t want to travel two hours if they don’t need to.”
The Fenway Institute’s planning study that led to the creation of Transhealth Northampton also resulted in three upcoming papers related to the mental health and diverse needs as well as the similarities and differences in perspective and priorities between the transgender population and health care providers in rural New England, according to Keuroghlian.
While he applauds Transhealth Northampton for its model of care and cites the benefits of having a dedicated program in western Massachusetts, he anticipates that there will still be much unmet need for care.
As the country begins to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, Transhealth Northampton is looking for ways to engage the community. Staff is planning outreach events and hopes to invite community members to teach classes in the center’s community room.