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Funding to expand LGBTQ health care services reaches Peoria

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PEORIA (25News Now) – Central Illinois Friends is one of 15 organizations to receive a piece of more than $1 million through the state’s new Transgender and Gender-Diverse (TGD) Wellness and Equity Program.

The program, started by the Illinois Department of Human Services and Public Health Institute of Metropolitan Chicago (PHIMC), was created to expand gender-affirming health care to the LGBTQ+ community.

“Providing services that understand the uniqueness of this population, that are focused on making sure that they are affirmed and welcomed, is essential,” PHIMC CEO Karen Reitan said. “It’s a population that hasn’t had these kinds of affirming services state-wide before, and it’s high time that they do.”

Reitan says the money is program-specific. One portion will go towards hiring people to help the LGBTQ+ community navigate the healthcare system, and the rest for unique projects.

Central Illinois Friends already offers services that include transgender health navigation specialists, gender-affirming hormone therapy, and speech pathology services. The leaders say the funding will bring those services to the next level.

The money will also help, in part, to fund an affirmative counseling program in Central Illinois Friends’s new LGBTQ community center clinic.

“The ability to access things like hormones, things like surgeries, things like affirmative counseling or affirmative psychiatry is difficult, it’s enormously difficult, and having programs like this, which lower that barrier to entry for trans folks, is immensely helpful,” Public Relations Manager Selena Pappas said.

Pappas says even with an affirming provider, not all physicians are trained in transgender care. She says being able to train more physicians with this state grant will allow them to accommodate more clients at a heightened level of care.

“We also want our physicians to see the unique challenges that gender diverse folks face, and initiatives like this help to close that health disparity that folks from those more marginalized communities face,” said Pappas.

Ron Lombard is a nurse practitioner at Peoria’s University of Illinois College of Medicine’s Positive Health Solutions (PHS). He is qualified to provide gender-affirming care.

Along with nurse practitioners, the clinic includes psychiatric counseling to support the mental health needs of their clients and pediatricians who work with families looking for LGBTQ services for children.

Lombard says he’s gained a lot of patients who were previously getting care in Chicago or out of state who can now access care in Peoria.

“A lot of our patients that we see feel, a lot of times, fearful when they seek out health care,” Lombard said. “They may have been stigmatized in the past when they sought out health care or felt uncomfortable with previous providers that they’ve had, so we really strive to make it a safe, inclusive environment.”

Central Illinois Friends will host the counseling program with its other services in a new community center. The organization expects the center to be open next month.

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