AKRON,Ohio-- It's the first of its kind in the Akron area. The Center for Gender-Affirming Medicine inside Akron Children's Hospital is now accepting patients.
"Having a program like this in our community is so important," said Dr. Stephen Sondike.
The center provides care for transgender and LGBTQ+ youth. Hospital staff said the multidisciplinary team aims to be an ally for patients. A sign at the check in desk states the area is a safe space.
The program at the center offers pubertal suppression, gender-affirming hormones, mental health care, wellness checks, and supportive care for youth and their families. Children as young as 7 can be cared for at the center. As young adults, when patients become too old to receive services, staff said they assist with finding adult community resources.
"Meet people where they are, some people just want a place to go in and aren't ready to make a whole lot of changes," Sondike said. "Other people have already decided what they want to do."
CANAPI, an Akron non-profit with the goal of providing awareness, education and promoting the well being of the LGBTQ+ community, said the center will help eliminate a hurdle to medical care in Akron.
"There's a barrier for transportation because they have to go out of the area for finding doctors that understand and are able to treat non-binary youth," said Rebecca Callahan, CANAPI's executive director.
Callahan said prior to the center opening, many people seeking medical treatment were forced to find a way to Cleveland for specialized care. It's something Julie Boylen said she knows all too well.
"I identify as a trans woman," Boylen said. "I don't identify with the gender I was assigned at birth."
Boylen said when she heard the news of the center opening she instantly believed barriers to care would be broken down.
"They can get the treatment they need, they can get it on time and can live a life and feel better about themselves as they go along in their journey," Boylen said.
According to staff members at the Center for Gender Affirming Medicine, 60 patients have signed up for care so far and the number is expected to grow.
"People seem relaxed and appreciate having the opportunity to get care specific to their gender related needs," said Penny Daly, a social worker at the center.
Boylen said she once considered suicide because she did not feel the life she wanted to live was possible.
"Suicide rates in the transgender community are high," Boylen said. "There was a time when I didn't feel like I could be a transgender person and live normally in the world. I had no idea the life that I have now is possible and therefore I was ready to give it up."
The American Academy of Pediatrics released its first policy statement urging support and care of transgender and gender-diverse children and adolescents last year.