Summa Health is opening its Pride Clinic specializing in care for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) community.

The health system has been working on developing the clinic for five years, said Hollie Kozak, division director for Summa Health Medical Group, which is overseeing the Pride Clinic. 

When it opens Monday, the Pride Clinic will serve as a primary care clinic and also refer to other specialties.

Summa asked employees for feedback about the importance of having a Pride Clinic and one of the statements couldn’t have said it better, Kozak said.

“An LGBTQ PRIDE clinic as part of our health system is the epitome of what population health truly stands for. To close the gap of disparities and inequities of those seeking safe and fair quality care. To hold the hands of those who often times feel so left out. To look into the eyes and heart of someone and say you are safe here, we will help you. Affordable healthcare doesn’t always have a price tag attached to it. Sometimes a sense of belonging can be absolutely invaluable,” wrote Niki Oberlander, a behavioral health consultant for Summa Health Medical Group.

Population health looks at the community as a whole and coordinates care for patients while finding disparities and offering targeted health services.

Kozak said while other Summa primary care physicians also are treating members of the LGBTQ population, “there’s a lot of fear within this population due to discrimination or bullying” to go to the doctor.

If the patients are avoiding going to the doctor, then it “unfortunately does lead to chronic conditions” such as diabetes that are not being treated, she said.

Patients also can stay with their primary care physician and consult with the clinic for coordinated care or medications, Kozak said.

The new practice is located at 1260 Independence Blvd. in Akron. The office building is next to the movie theater near Chapel Hill Mall. The phone number is 234-867-7740, and appointments are necessary.

The Pride Clinic initially will offer appointments several days a week, but has the goal of expanding to five days a week.

The practice is located in a facility with other practices, including rheumatology, internal medicine, endocrinology ophthalmology and a lab. It's near a bus stop to allow easy access for patients using bus transportation, Kozak said.

The clinic will start with Dr. Scott Hamler, who will be at the clinic several days a week. Plans are to add another physician and a full-time nurse practitioner.

The clinic will offer primary-care services as well as hormone replacement therapy and other medications such as pre-exposure prophylaxis, also known as PrEP. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, PrEP pills can help prevent HIV infection if taken daily by HIV-negative patients who are at very high risk of getting HIV.

The clinic will refer patients to other specialties, including behavioral health, as needed, since rates of depression among the LGBTQ community can be high. Another available resource is Summa’s HIV C.A.R.E. Clinic on the Akron City Hospital main campus, Kozak said. That clinic can be reached at 330-375-4851.

The new clinic received local grants from the Gay Endowment Foundation and Summa’s Women’s Circle of Philanthropy. The latter grant is being used to work with the Kent State University LGBTQ Student Center on education about the clinic, she said.

There are similar clinics in Cleveland and Columbus. Local patients were having to leave the community to get care and then sometimes didn’t have the resources to return to the clinics to receive follow-up care, Kozak said.

The clinic is working with Akron Children’s Hospital’s new Children's Center for Gender Affirming Medicine, which is providing care for transgender patients seeking characteristics more aligned with their gender identity. More information about Children's specialty clinic is available at 330-543-8538.

The Summa Pride Clinic has a long-term goal to be able to treat patients seeking gender-affirming surgery, often referred to as “top” or “bottom” surgery, but for now will be referring to other providers, Kozak said.

The clinic accepts private insurances, as well as Medicaid and Medicare. A sliding-fee scale also is available for those without insurance.

The Pride Clinic will host a ribbon-cutting and open house 10 a.m. to 1 p.m Sept. 14.

 

Beacon Journal consumer columnist and medical reporter Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or blinfisher@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ and see all her stories at www.ohio.com/topics/linfisher