The LGBT community in New Jersey recently welcomed the opening of a new Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital clinic that offers specialized primary care services for the underserved population.

The PROUD (Promoting, Respect, Outreach, Understanding and Dignity) Family Health clinic is part of the RWJ Somerset Family Practice Center and opened in January after a business resource group in the hospital brought to light the need for LGBT-focused care in the state.

“Every hospital does a community needs assessment, and this population has been overlooked for a long time,” said Tony Cava, chief administrative officer at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset.

In 2005, Jackie Baras, R.N., quality nurse manager of perioperative services at RWJ University Hospital, was in the process of transitioning from male to female and was forced to make the 45-minute trek from New Jersey to New York for proper care — like many in the New Jersey transgender community. The cross into New York also meant traveling out of network and higher medical costs.

“I said: ‘I’m a nurse. I’m working for a hospital. How come I have to go to New York for my medical care?’ And that’s how it started,” Baras said.

Baras organized the PROUD business resource group at Somerset to advocate for an LGBT-safe work environment and from there began the push for more individual and family-focused LGBT care in New Jersey.

After a talk with Cava, a team was created to tackle the issue. About a year later, the pieces came together to open the facility.

Nearly 2,200 RWJ University Hospital employees were trained on LGBT sensitivities with the help of Garden State Equality, one of the largest LGBT organizations in New Jersey.

The clinic offers specialized primary care services for the LGBT community, including hormone therapy and monitoring, HIV care, and referrals for specialty services. It also provides support for family members, health education, counseling and a number of support groups.

The PROUD clinic has four faculty members and operates from 6 to 9 p.m. Mondays. It has been met with such demand that appointments are booked well in advance, and discussions are beginning on adding additional operating hours, according to Baras.

“This has been my dream and vision, to have this here in New Jersey, and it happened,” Baras said. — Matt O'Connor