Hospital:

Improving Lives for 1 Year: Staff & Patients Discuss Haddonfield Primary & Specialty Care, an LGBTQ+ Affirming Practice

December 30, 2021

In January 2020, Jefferson Health opened the doors to a multidisciplinary LGBTQ+ affirming practice – the first of its kind in South Jersey.

Under the leadership of medical director Todd Levin, DO, and practice manager Denine Gorniak – both out and proud members of the LGBTQ+ community – specially trained clinicians at Haddonfield Primary & Specialty Care have fostered a safe and welcoming environment, while working to close the healthcare gap faced by this notably underserved population.

An expanding practice, some services offered include primary care; nutrition counseling; behavioral health counseling; obstetrics and gynecology; gender affirming hormone therapy; and more. (Learn more.)

Breaking Barriers to Culturally Competent Care

Studies have shown that more than 50% of LGBTQ+ people in the U.S. have experienced healthcare discrimination, leading some to delay necessary care, or avoid it altogether. Even when one finds a properly trained specialist, they may have to deal with far commutes, long waitlists, and insurance coverage issues.

Local access to culturally competent care is incredibly important when it comes to addressing pertinent health disparities amongst the LGBTQ+ population, says Dr. Levin. Jefferson Health is not only committed to health equity, but also providing compassionate care that can help lower rates of infections, cardiovascular disease, substance use disorder, depression, and even suicide.

Creating a Safe Space

The Haddonfield office is open, bright, and decorated with pride artwork. “There’s a sign on the door that says ‘LGBTQ+ affirming,’ and I consider that an implied guarantee that we live up to that statement,” said Denine.

However, making someone feel comfortable and welcome is about more than what’s tangible; it’s about meaningful connections, continues Denine. “From the moment a patient checks in, we strive to treat them the same way we, ourselves, would want to be treated.”

“I often overhear positive comments,” notes Christopher Huff, LCSW, LCADC, behavioral health specialist and licensed clinical alcohol and drug counselor. “When I’m near the lobby, I catch glimpses of patients who are seemingly overwhelmed with emotions. Patients get along with each other. They bond over a shared experience.”

Many people haven’t seen a doctor routinely in years, adds Marina Khazan, ACNP, primary care provider. “They don’t know what to expect. They’re nervous. Just being kind to someone – LGBTQ+ or not – can change their perspective and encourage them to come back and stay on top of their health.”

Marina emphasized how important it is for everyone to receive proper preventative care to avoid further health issues down the line. When you feel like you can’t go to the doctor, you’re at risk for a hoard of complications.

Providing support for technical issues is also key. Sam Samsel, LSW, recently joined the Haddonfield team as a patient navigator, to assist patients with referrals and insurance claims, as well as provide general support every step of the way. “We know this can be an emotional road for many, and you don’t need any more hurdles in the way. My goal is to help with any issues that pop up.”

Watching People Blossom

While the Haddonfield office provides care for patients of all identities, many patients are transgender and have sought transitioning options for years. Getting to watch these patients’ lives change and improve firsthand has left an unforgettable mark, says Denine.

“I think what’s cool about getting to be initial contact for trans people starting their transition is watching their reaction when they’re finally approved,” said Chris. “They start to morph and grow. Their demeanor changes in how they walk and talk. People want to actively follow up for mental health care. Their depression and anxiety improve, which is huge. It’s moving to watch this from both a professional and personal lens.”

“As a mom, I find it beautiful to witness such unforgettable moments,” continued Denine. “A young adult will walk out of their appointment, approved for something like hormone therapy, buzzing with excitement, and then their parent just engulfs them in a hug.”

“Some of my patients are completely different people than when I first met them,” added Marina. “They’re confident and happy. Before joining this practice, I worked in a hospital setting, so I didn’t know what to expect; but this has been incredibly humbling to be a part of.”

Real People – Real Stories

We asked several patients why they chose the Haddonfield office. Here’s what they had to say:

“It’s not cold. It’s warm, inviting, and family oriented. I always feel like I’m in good hands. I know it sounds silly, but it doesn’t even feel like I’m going to the doctor; it feels like I’m going to my favorite diner to meet up with a friend,” said Xander. “In the most literal sense, going there has been life-changing, as they helped me achieve top surgery. On a more emotional level, they’ve helped me push my boundaries and live a more fulfilling life.”

“Admittedly, I used to have a fear of doctors’ offices. There was no real reason, but they made me nervous. Now, I feel comfortable and safe,” said Danny. “I was on the waiting list for testosterone therapy for several months, but I was recently approved. It’s changed my life beyond words. I’m able to become the person I’ve always wanted to be.”

“I started going to the Haddonfield office after sending my son there. Once I saw how he responded to them, and how welcoming and friendly everyone was, I wanted to go there myself,” said Priscilla. “I’ve set up care with multiple doctors there, in one place, instead of having to travel from office to office. It’s an uplifting environment. They treat everyone equally and with so much respect.”

“I’ve been waiting for an office like this to open for years,” said Don, of Aging with Pride, Jewish Family & Children’s Services of Southern New Jersey. “Finding a provider who understands your perspective, especially as a 73-year-old member of the LGBTQ+ community, is difficult. At the Haddonfield office, I trust them. Not only are they attentive in the office, but they’re great at getting involved in the community. This is the change we need, and something I started fighting for many moons ago.”

“I knew the Haddonfield office was the right fit for me after my first primary care appointment,” said Ash. “Marina never rushes me. She covers everything clearly and is focused on helping me reach my goals. She’s relatable. She gets what I’ve been through and doesn’t have to guess. I had my top surgery with the help of this office, and now I’m confident enough to use the men’s restroom in public – something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.”

Going Beyond Healthcare

Part of making a change within the community happens outside of the brick-and-mortar office, says Dr. Levin. “We want to show everyone – not just those who are LGBTQ+ – that we’re here for them. We listen to their needs and strive to provide it all.”

Over the past year, the Haddonfield staff have participated in various panel discussions, festivals, and other events throughout Camden County to raise awareness about affirming care.

“I love being able to offer this opportunity,” continued Dr. Levin. “It’s something we’ve needed for so long. I have colleagues, friends, and strangers come up to me – people are happy there’s a place for them.”

For more information, call 844-542-2273