Doctors allegedly delay surgery for transgender patients

When Katie Dudtschak could hardly keep her eyes open at Longwood Regional Hospital in Kennett Square, Pa., during a four-hour wait, her medical provider, Tina Comer, admitted the doctor’s surgery was going to take…

Doctors allegedly delay surgery for transgender patients

When Katie Dudtschak could hardly keep her eyes open at Longwood Regional Hospital in Kennett Square, Pa., during a four-hour wait, her medical provider, Tina Comer, admitted the doctor’s surgery was going to take longer than expected.

“I felt so helpless. I was crying,” the 18-year-old said. “And there was my mom, holding me in her arms, praying, just trying to pull me through. It was the longest wait of my life.”

Dudtschak, a transgender girl, was hospitalized for seven months after receiving a dreaded hormonal “treat” — testosterone, a powerful drug that can severely hurt and even kill her body in the long run.

Had Dudtschak gone ahead with the gender-affirming procedure, her doctors would have been able to monitor her via a video conferencing device.

Health care officials acknowledged late last month that transgender patients are being released from hospitals to prepare for surgery too soon.

Some had said the order came from Washington’s D.C. Health and Human Services office. On Wednesday, advocates attributed the problem in the first case to “clerical” mistakes.

“I still can’t believe it,” Dudtschak said. “I thought we had landed at the beginning of the transgender story, to get everyone’s names and rights. Instead, it turned into, ‘Oh, we want to slow down, too.’ ”

Dudtschak’s story is just one of hundreds reported by transgender groups. Logistically, the operation can be overwhelming and leaves those seeking it with little rest.

A study released last year by the UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute found that of those 18 to 64 years old, more than a quarter had serious health concerns because of gender identity. More than two-thirds would be disqualified from Medicaid due to “complex medical-related issues.”

Other studies have shown that trans people are at increased risk for stroke, heart disease, depression and suicide. Last year, doctors said sexual and gender identity had a high chance of leading to clinical depression.

The research is available to Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights, an administration official said. (The Williams Institute and the American Psychological Association have tracked at least 45 cases involving alleged gender-affirming care delays and denial.)

In February, the department sent a letter to the nation’s 6,300 hospitals and clinics saying its concerns about gender affirmation procedures are real.

“We are concerned about the potential for delays and denials of treatment for transgender patients,” the letter said. “We request that each hospital clarify their policies regarding gender-affirming care to ensure that no transgender patient experiences unreasonable delays or denial of such care.”

On Wednesday, a Health and Human Services official said the department does not decide to intervene on a case-by-case basis, and doctors are required to work with the patients and their families.

The official, who asked not to be identified because the issue is ongoing, said the letter also informed hospitals to ensure all patients involved in their coverage have health insurance including gender-affirming care. The official said it does not matter if a patient is considered a man or a woman if the transgender person has a procedure or treatment, whether or not it is gender-affirming.

“Our guidelines are to do the best care we can for the patient,” the official said. “I can’t explain why they were issues or how they are resolved. It’s a completely separate issue.”

Dudtschak said she hopes that this issue will be addressed before anyone else goes through the hardships of waiting for the sex-affirming treatment.

“My hope was taken away,” she said. “All of us have waited our entire lives for something, and it’s supposed to be done. When it’s done, it should be done.”

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