Rush Hospital Redefining LGBTQ Healthcare With Affirm

Dr. Ravi Iyengar. Photo provided by Rush University Medical Center
Dr. Ravi Iyengar. Photo provided by Rush University Medical Center

When care for LGBTQ people is important, how much care should you receive?

The reality is…not enough. Especially when you are transgender and are considering gender affirming procedures. 

At one of the leading hospitals in the country, Rush University Medical Center created a program called Affirm. According to Ravi Iyengar, MD, the Medical Director of Affirm: The Rush Center for Gender, Sexuality, and Reproductive Health, he explained that “Affirm was born out of the efforts of the Rush LGBTQ+ Leadership Council to increase quality and affirming medical care within our own RUSH community and the communities we serve on Chicago’s west side.” 

“The LGBTQ+ community has long been marginalized and left out of access to appropriate care,” Dr. Iyengar further explained, “as healthcare systems and education have been built upon heteronormative and cisgender ideals. As a result, a major population has faced increasing gaps in healthcare, leading to worsening disparities and poor outcomes. Affirm seeks to break that cycle by providing a patient-centered, multi-departmental approach to increase education and access to knowledgeable and affirming medical services.”

However, this major institution of health that is the center of the Chicago community is looking beyond its region to welcome patients who have been further marginalized by the healthcare system in their home area – in particular, Minnesota. Dr. Iyengar explained that “Affirm initially set out to collaborate and expand services for our local Chicago communities, noting a dearth of services specifically on Chicago’s west side. With increasing demand and expansion, and the advent of telemedicine, we have been able to extend our reach beyond Chicago and the Midwest, serving patients nationally and internationally.”

“As we expand,” Dr. Iyengar states, “we are always looking to collaborate and work with other local LGBTQ+ communities. Currently, we do not have partnerships yet with Minnesota-based organizations. Community partnerships have been core to our development and expansion.”

Dr. Loren Schechter. Photo provided by Rush University Medical Center

Why Affirm? Loren Schechter, MD, the Surgical Director of Affirm: The Rush Center for Gender, Sexuality, and Reproductive Health, explains that their goal is “to understand each person’s unique healthcare needs and provide comprehensive surgical services for transgender and gender-diverse individuals, allowing our patients to live their authentic lives.”

“Gender affirmation surgery is central to our comprehensive transgender health program,” Dr. Schechter explained, “allowing RUSH and Affirm to meet the full spectrum of our patients’ healthcare needs.” Furthermore, “it’s important to RUSH and Affirm that we streamline the process for our transgender and gender-diverse patients who are seeking gender-affirming surgery,” stated Dr. Schechter, “Our multidisciplinary team is skilled at helping patients navigate their healthcare needs and support services throughout their preoperative, surgical and postoperative stages. This work allows patients to focus their energy on their recovery.”

Dr. Schechter explained how their team works for our community, specifically when it comes to geneder-affirming surgery. “Our multidisciplinary team includes surgeons who specialize in plastic surgery,” Dr. Schechter said, “including face, chest and breast, and genital surgery — as well as urologists, gynecologists, colorectal surgeons, allied health professionals, social workers, and nurses who create individual care plans that provide patients with personalized care at every step of their journey.”

How is Rush the best provider in not just gender-affirming surgery, but in providing additional serves to LGBTQ patients? “Affirm serves the LGBTQ+ community,” Dr. Iyengar explained, “this is a program built by members of the community, for the community. Many of our staff self-identify within the rainbow alphabet and see ourselves in the patients we face and the work that we do. It is important to us that our program is representative of the communities we serve.”

For over 10 years now,” Dr. Iyengar continued, “Rush University Medical Center has achieved LGBTQ+ leader status, as designated by the Human Rights Campaign HEI (Healthcare Equality Index), with RUSH becoming the first healthcare system in Illinois to offer comprehensive insurance coverage for transgender employees and students.”

The issue goes beyond just getting the care the LGBTQ community demands. Rather, to gain proper access to a program that is directed to us. “The ongoing battle has been tackling a national healthcare system that fails to address the needs of a large population,” explained Dr. Iyendar. “One in five gen Z adults now identify as LGBTQ+, yet our insurance policies, medical education, research, and training have not caught up, especially depending on geography.” 

“To be fair,” Dr. Iyengar continued, “there have been numerous strides and expansions made within each of these areas just within the past few years that I remain optimistic about, but we need more. Programs like Affirm show how we can create systematic change within our current environments, and we will never stop advocating for our community and patients.”

To sum it all up, Dr. Schechter reminds us that Rush’s Affirm program’s goal is to “understand each person’s unique healthcare needs and provide comprehensive surgical services for transgender and gender-diverse individuals, allowing our patients to live their authentic lives.”

If you are looking for a referral to get the care you need from the Affirm program, visit rush.edu/affirm and fill out their online intake form. Alternatively, you can also call (833) 624-LGBT (5428) or (312) 942-3640 and leave a message for their patient navigation team and they’ll get in touch with you.

No matter where you live, if you are looking for comprehensive care – from dealing with emotional/mental health to going forward with gender-affirming surgery – there is a choice that within reach in the Midwest. 

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