It’s that time again. I need to find a healthcare provider.
I live in a rural community where there is a large turnover of medical professionals and a constant shortage of qualified staff. The health organization that provides these services seems to have difficulty attracting talent. It’s common knowledge in the communities it covers that it’s a tough employer to work with.
Which isn’t to say there are not entirely competent professionals devoted to their patients and performing at least as well as their big city peers. I’m the one who’s chosen to live where the question, “Is there a doctor in the house?” may well go unanswered.
My primary provider is pursuing the next step in her career — a step at a deservedly higher altitude. She’s a Physician Assistant, but I couldn’t trust someone with a full medical degree more. She’s perfectly straight, yet never blanched when the issue of my queerness came up. Although she was not taking new patients at the time, she graciously made room for my sweetheart in her practice. How will we ever replace her?
Of course, I asked the same thing when my former doctor left. We all loved her. Once, I had to go into her office and the New York Times was up on her computer screen. Bonding moment! Another time, I answered my phone and it was a call from a liberal election phone tree. I recognized my doctor’s voice and she admitted to thinking she probably didn’t need to give me her spiel. Double bonding! Then she was gone.
This year, for the first time, I chose a Medicare Advantage Plan with the aforementioned difficult local health organization. The lure was partial coverage for dental, acupuncture, and vision, bless their hearts. Now I’m limited to the medical providers who are left on their roster after mine departed. Woe is me.
One of my major concerns is finding a gay-friendly person, preferably female. I’ve always taken my chances, but after the phone tree doctor left, I tried Dr. X. Oh my gosh, what a mistake that was both for me and, I later found out, for all her patients and the staff. It’s not difficult to intimidate me, and Dr. X was a master at it. She was medical s&m and there I was, a homosexual beneath contempt — and this in the twenty-first century! I mean, you believe what your doctor says, you trust her, you follow her instructions. But Dr. X was just plain mean. She was expert at identifying vulnerabilities and using verbal ice picks to stab them.
So, I’m cautious now. I’m on tip toes. I’ll travel hours to see someone with whom I’ll be compatible.
My retreating PA had some suggestions for potential new providers, but not one of them is taking new patients in this time of COVID-19 and rural staff shortages. I’m grateful she was able to rule out a few pairings she knew would be lethal, to either me or to the doc.
Friends recommended a good woman MD, but she’s employed by the Health District and thus, not covered by my plan. Two other recommendations looked excellent, but are not taking new patients.
Facebook can be helpful once in a while. I posted to a local LGBTQ and straight page whose members were generous with suggestions. There was a well-recommended P.A., but the contacts, responding to my search for a female provider, expressed uncertainty that the recommended individual was identifying as female.
Meanwhile, our delightful new lesbian neighbors have also been looking for healthcare, and one actually scheduled an appointment with a woman MD in town, then cancelled when the plague hit, so no input there yet.
Do non-gays have this much trouble finding care? And how do other lesbians approach this headache? Should I simply call the clinics and ask if they employ a professional who is gay-friendly, wait for the pregnant pause and assurance that everyone is treated equally, and the inevitable willy-nilly listing of doctors who can squeeze us in?
There’s a neat website, out2enroll.org, which has a search engine for gay-friendly doctors. I plugged in my zip code. The response: “No providers match your search. Try removing some search criteria.” Maybe it works in San Francisco, a ten-hour drive from here in good weather.
And then there’s outcarehealth.org/outlist/. Same response. HRC has a list, but it only includes hospitals for my state. Our medical center is not listed. I actually noticed, when I signed up for the Advantage Plan, that sexual orientation is not included in its Equal Employment statement.
What’s a dyke to do? What I’ve always done. Make an appointment with an unknown quantity and hope for an open-minded practitioner who thinks gay patients are as valuable and deserving of respect as heterosexuals. She’s out there; it’s just a matter of enduring a Dr. X or two until I find her.