Babs Siperstein PROUD Center celebrates 5th anniversary of specialized LGBTQ healthcare

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PROUD Family Health LGBT Center in Somerville. 2018 File photo
PROUD Family Health LGBT Center in Somerville. 2018 File photo

Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in Somerville was a trailblazer in 2017

The Babs Siperstein PROUD Center at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) Somerset, the first hospital in New Jersey to offer specialized primary care services for the LGBTQ community, will mark its fifth anniversary on January 30th.

Opened as PROUD Family Health in 2017, it was the first location in New Jersey to provide primary care services tailored to meet the needs of the LGBTQ community. Originally starting as a one-night-a-week clinic, the center served just over 200 patients in its first year. In 2019, it was renamed the Babs Siperstein PROUD Center in memory of transgender activist Barbra “Babs” Casbar Siperstein and moved into a new space to accommodate a growing patient population.

Today, the Babs Siperstein PROUD Center serves more than 1,000 patients and is open five days a week offering services such as primary medical care for children and adults, hormone therapy and monitoring, HIV care, health education, counseling, support groups and referrals for specialty services.

“I never thought that as a young adult I would have access to the type of care available at the Babs Siperstein PROUD Center,” said Mason McHugh, a long-time patient of the center who regularly visits for hormone therapy. “It’s a welcoming environment with a fitting name. Not only is there no judgement, but it’s an accepting place where you can feel proud to be whoever you are.”

The PROUD Center continues to grow with the needs of its patient population. In 2021, the center was awarded a $150,000 grant from TD Bank to improve access to medical care for members of the LGBTQ community with a focus on HIV prevention and mental health.

“We opened the Babs Siperstein PROUD Center five years ago to provide professional and compassionate care to the LGBTQIA community in New Jersey, the needs of which were not being met in the state at the time,” said Tony Cava, President and Chief Executive Officer, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset. “It’s been an honor to be able to provide specialized medical care to over 1,000 patients with the respect and dignity they deserve. We are excited to continue to grow and serve this community for many years to come.”

Research in 2017 showed that LGBTQ individuals are more than twice as likely as heterosexual individuals to have a mental health disorder in their lifetime and 2.5 times more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and substance misuse. Recognizing that many patients at the PROUD Center are in need of behavioral health services, the RWJUH Somerset Behavioral Health Department has recently started offering consults for PROUD patients from a dedicated therapist with experience serving the LGBTQIA community.

The center’s medical director, Sameh Abdellal, MD, is an infectious disease specialist with extensive experience in caring for patients with HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. The PROUD Center has expanded its HIV prevention services with the addition of a Preexposure Prophylactics (PrEP) Counselor who provides education on PrEP and postexposure prophylaxis (PEP) and HIV risk reduction counseling. The center’s patient navigator works closely with patients to address gaps in care and connect patients with hospital and community resources.

RWJUH Somerset has been recognized by the Human Rights Campaign as a leader in LGBT healthcare equality six years in a row. The name for The Babs Siperstein PROUD Center derives from the hospital’s PROUD Business Resource Group, a group of employees at the hospital who help create a positive working environment for LGBTQ employees and who also lead LGBTQ outreach and advocacy efforts. PROUD stands for Promoting Respect, Outreach, Understanding and Dignity.

To schedule an appointment with the Babs Siperstein PROUD Center, call 908-243-8647. For more information visit: www.rwjbh.org/somersetproud.