Big things are happening out east in the world of healthcare for the LBGTQ community.
The Edie Windsor Healthcare Center (EWHC), formerly known as the David E. Rogers, M.D. Center (in Southampton), officially reopened on June 11. It not only has a new location (Hampton Bays), it will have an expanded facility and purpose — to serve as Long Island’s first comprehensive LGBTQ Health Center.
That means that in addition to continuing to provide support and health and care management to people living with HIV/AIDS and HIV testing through The Rose Walton Services — a cornerstone of the facility since it opened in 1994 — the center will now include primary care services and expanded mental health services for all members of the LGBTQ community.
“I’m very excited about it.” said Judith Kasen-Windsor, widow of the late Edie Windsor, a Southampton resident and LGBTQ trailblazer who successfully paved the way for same-sex marriage in the United States. Windsor died suddenly in 2017, but her legacy lives on.
“When [Stony Brook Southampton Hospital] came to me to ask if they could rename the David Rogers Center, the HIV center for the last 20-25 years, to the Edie Windsor Healthcare Center, I was thrilled,” Kasen-Windsor said. “It’s important to have things dedicated and named after women. But in renaming it I wanted to expand the services to LGBTQ youth, elders, women, the transgender community, and particularly expand the mental health services — I want all of Long Island to know these resources are there for them — if a kid is struggling in coming out, there’s a professional there to help them through that process.”
Kasen-Windsor envisions the center as a great connector of services to other LGBTQ services such as PFLAG, Callen Lorde, Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE), and the Hetrick-Martin Institute, which serves LGBTQ youth.
“We can connect you with the resources in the city and with services that you can’t even possibly imagine,” said Kasen-Windsor who is “super excited” about a collaboration with a transgender resource center in Islip.
The mission of the Edie Windsor Healthcare Center is clear: “to provide accessible, compassionate, comprehensive, state of the art care to all members of the LGBTQ+ community and to people living with HIV infection.”
But how do you provide targeted healthcare to a community that is often hidden or fearful about discussing their personal lives and medical and mental needs?
“We do know that the LGBTQ community utilizes healthcare less and has health risks that are higher than normal in other populations,” said Robert S. Chaloner, chief administration officer at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital.
As the expansion and relocation plans developed between Stony Brook Medicine and Stony Brook Southampton Hospital, which oversees the operations of the Edie Windsor Healthcare Center, it became clear: There was a lack of data to understand the size, age range and specific health care needs of the LGBTQ population — “a challenge that exists on both the local and national level,” Chaloner said.
“We knew through quick, informal surveys there is a need for primary care and the need for expanded mental health care, but there was lack of specific data in our market,” Chaloner said. “People may be hesitant to talk about personal issues and a large part of the population still isn’t out of the closet. We wanted to respect their privacy but we still want to know their needs,” he said.
Chaloner, who is “thrilled” about the new Edie Windsor Center, because it is “bigger, more modern and also gives us the ability to do more clinical services than the old space,” framed the particular challenge of providing world class healthcare to an underserved community.
“Our commitment is to provide an environment where we take away the biases and barriers and open up access and make sure the right specialists are available,” Chaloner said. That goal led to a partnership with Stony Brook Medicine to administer a new survey: The first LGBTQ+ Community Health Needs Assessment Survey on Long Island — a landmark study that will seek vital data and shape the future of LGBTQ healthcare in Nassau and Suffolk Counties.
In conjunction with more than 20 partners, including the Suffolk County Department of Health, Women’s Diversity Network, and OLA of Eastern Long Island, the survey is part of an initiative “to provide the best health care possible and to make sure the right specialists are available depending on the needs of the population,” according to Chaloner.
“The LGBTQ Health Needs Assessment Survey is online, anonymous, and open to all LGBTQ adults age 18 years and older, including those questioning their identity and who currently reside in either Nassau or Suffolk counties, Chaloner said. “Eligible respondents also include college, university, and technical school students on Long Island who are 18 years or older, regardless of their permanent address.”
The survey takes approximately 15-20 minutes to complete and the link will be distributed by the partnership organizations during Pride Month, through June 30. Respondents are encouraged to forward the survey link to eligible friends and colleagues.
Meanwhile, at the new Edie Windsor Healthcare Center, the staff and patients are buzzing about the changes.
Maureen Coley, a clinical social worker who has been with the center for 20 years providing counseling, therapy, and case management to help patient navigate insurance and “get access to the kind of comprehensive care in a system that can be very complicated,” is excited about the new facility.
“It’s fantastic,” she said. “It’s bigger, it’s brighter, it’s a really nice location, more easily accessible and we are able to access other health services — trans health, substance abuse, mental health. We have a very good team here. We are now open to primary care and offer comprehensive care — all in house.”
The center’s primary care is anchored around Dr. Eric Lella, the center’s medical director and a board certified family medicine physician with specialization in Neuromusculoskeletal Medicine
“We believe you should always start with a good primary care provider,” Chaloner said. “That person becomes the coach for your health care,”
Lella, an Osteopathic physician who focuses on treating the whole person as an interconnected unit (mind, body, spirit) along with Dr. Eric Finn, an infectious disease specialist, and Dr. Paul Garson, a psychiatrist, are the attending physicians. The center’s longtime infectious disease physician’s assistant is Jennifer Jolie (15 years).
“We are an LGBTQ affirming practice,” Lella said. “We offer primary care services for anyone in the LGBTQ population, but we also provide primary care services for patients who are allies or people not in that community — there is no reverse discrimination here. I have many OMT patients — some who have HIV but who aren’t LGBTQ, some who are straight and don’t have HIV. We are an open practice for the community and for whoever wants to establish here.”
A New Jersey native, Lella said he came out east for “the unique integrative residency program Stony Brook Southampton hospital.” Lella has been with his husband for 8 1/2 years—they married last year and live in Hampton Bays.
Lella is particularly enthusiastic about the center’s new location.
“The benefits are that we have radiology services in this building and a number of different specialties and specialists, GI, allergist, cardiology — all under the Stony Brook Medicine roof.”
He describes the staff of 10 as “absolutely wonderful — some of the coolest and nicest people I have gotten a chance to work with.”
Jimmy Mack, a Southampton resident and EMT volunteer who has been with the center since it opened and who tested positive for HIV in 1987, said the re-opening and new expansion is both personal and emotional.
“They have literally saved my life on a couple of occasions,” Mack said. “The new place is bigger, better and beautifully located. I’m so excited about it. Everyone who works there is like family — that’s how they treat you. I can’t say enough good things about them. We are blessed to have them out here.”
For Kasen-Windsor, the support of the center is crucial. To that end, she and Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman have established the Windsor Heart Project — a heart-shaped stone platform of interlocking smaller hearts on the lawn outside of Southampton Town Hall, where many couples are married. Proceeds from purchasing a heart (where you can customize an inscription) directly benefit the Edie Windsor Healthcare Center.
June 20 will be proclaimed “Edie Windsor Day” in New York — a fitting tribute on Windsor’s birthday.
“It’s not just about Edie, it’s about the LGBTQ community, it’s about women,” Kasen-Windsor said. “Edie was a genius, she coded, she worked for IBM. She was in the closet for all those years, she was very low key until probably the late 1980s.”
The goal of the center is to open up the doors to expanded care while also respecting privacy.
“Sometimes people even on the East End of Long Island feel it’s a small town and people want to know their confidentiality is being protected and that they can feel safe and comfortable where they are coming for care,” Coley said. “We really try to stress that we are open and welcome and will help you and protect your privacy as well.”
Chaloner said “we will always accept donations,” but emphasized “the importance of word of mouth early on” to support the center.
“We want to see it grow and we like feedback,” he added. “Visibility is very important. In the next few weeks we encourage people to fill out the totally anonymous survey — the more data we have, the better we can plan for the future and work with our partner organizations to build better services.”
The Edie Windsor Healthcare Center is located at 182 W. Montauk Hwy. Bldg. B, Suite D, Hampton Bays, NY. (631) 287-5990. For more information visit stonybrookmedicine.edu/LGBTQ. For information on the LGBTQ Community Health Needs Assessment Survey on Long Island, visit stonybrookmedicine.edu/LGBTQ/survey.