The program brings gender-affirming health services to the LGBTQ+ community

In 2021, the Wheeler Clinic launched a new program to address the full range of health-related needs of the LGBTQ+ community. The Walk With Me initiative was launched after the clinic received an anonymous $100,000 donation specifically to fund these services.

Now, Wheeler has received a $5,000 grant from the Main Street Community Foundation to expand her outpatient clinic for all LGBTQ+ residents in Connecticut.

Wheeler provides primary care, addiction services and mental health treatment for all age groups with services available in many locations across the state including Meriden, Southington and Plainville.

Walk With Me quickly evolved as it established care and support for LGBTQ+ people and their families. The program started in Wheeler’s Plainville and only served young clients. However, the Walk with Me team quickly realized the need to make services accessible to all LGBTQ+ people in Connecticut, according to Sabrina Trocchi, president and CEO of Wheeler Clinic, speaking to the Record-Journal reporter. Cris Villalonga-Vivoni.

The goal is to provide patients, their parents and caregivers with “guidance and strategies to help navigate their child and family’s journey,” Trocchi said.

In an interview with Villalonga-Vivoni, Nicole Heady, peer support specialist at the Plainville location, notes that a key aspect of Walk with Me is the inclusion of the patient’s designated support systems. Family, caregivers, and others with whom the patient feels comfortable can provide the support they need, beyond what therapy provides, for their larger life experience.

Villalonga-Vivoni cites a 2020 state survey that found 64% of LGBTQ+ respondents had concerns about accessing health care. Similarly, 55% of respondents were concerned about accessing help for mental health, addictions and substance abuse. These concerns centered around finding LGBTQ+ friendly and competent care, as well as cost.

Walk with Me’s goal is to break down these barriers with programs and services specifically designed for the LGBTQ+ community. Clinics won’t turn anyone away because of inability to pay, according to Wheeler’s website.

Gender-affirming primary care is available at Wheeler Centers in Bristol, Hartford, New Britain, Plainville and Waterbury. Behavioral and peer support services are only available at the Plainville and Hartford locations.

The imagery and comfort inherent in the name Walk With Me, together with Trocchi’s description of a journey, conveys an important message. LGBTQ+ people need companionship and support as they navigate the complexities of seeking good gender-affirming care.

The generous original donation Wheeler received has been put to good use. This funding has been a remarkable gift to the state and creates a resource that deserves praise and recognition. With the Main Street Foundation injecting another pot of money, Walk With Me shows that it has already established a strong place in our communities.