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“Denver Health has been recognized as a leader in LGBT health care by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation for five consecutive years, and with its national recognition and commitment to LGBT health care, Denver Health is proud of being an ‘LGBT Center of Excellence,’” reads Denver Health’s page for LGBTQ Health Care.

According to Administrative Director of the LGBT Center for Excellence Kari Kuka, the Center’s mission is simple: “to be THE source of care for all LGBTQ+ people.” For the most part, it seems like they’re largely able to be successful in this mission. One patient who receives care from Denver Health, Spoons Vazquez, has found the care to be excellent after dealing with a history of less-than-stellar care at other facilities.

“It’s kind of a crapshoot,” he told OUT FRONT. “As much as places may advertise that they’re queer spaces, you never know what the doctors’ personal opinions are. In all reality, they were probably hired before, so if someone has a personal bias, that’s not going to change just because you change the name of the center.”

But Denver Health’s Center for Excellence program has been different. “I didn’t necessarily know the extent of what Denver was trying to do until I started getting more involved as far as talking to the doctors and going through some experiences with the Denver healthcare system,” he noted. “I can see that they’re trying to change the way their people are educated on gender-expansive services and gender-expansive people.”

That’s exactly what Denver Health Center is striving to do, because they are a “decentralized model” of care, which means anyone can go to any of their nine clinics, specialty care, or surgical care facilities, and expect open, affirming care. This means that the staff at all of these clinics needs to be trained to give such care.

“Having this model means that we must continue to train over 7,000 staff members,” said Kuka. “We have also improved how we gather and report information about gender in our electronic medical database to help improve the use of a patient’s chosen name and their pronouns.”

This training is proving to be effective in day-to-day relations with patients. “The difference between that and anywhere else, when I go anywhere else, I have to educate people on my pronouns; I have to educate people on if anything on my paperwork says something different than how I present; then it’s a conversation.”

“But Denver Health has put together a system where you have, like, flags in the system for birth name and then preferred name and gender so that people don’t say stupid stuff to you,” Vazquez explained.

Keeping up with all this training has proven challenging, and it’s not the only obstacle Denver Health faces. “We understand how difficult and challenging both healthcare and insurance can be,” Kuka said. “We know the process is not easy, but we are giving everything we have to make it all possible for as many patients as we can. We are fighting for excellent care for all people.”

This fight can be extremely challenging, especially with the additional work of keeping staff trainings up to date. But it’s worthwhile work. “The most rewarding aspect of the work is hearing from patients whose lives have been changed so drastically because of the services we’ve been able to provide,” Kuka said. These services are continuing to grow. Last year, the Center for Excellence launched gender-confirmation surgeries, and they’ve been able to do over 80 procedures so far.

“I love visiting with patients after life-changing surgery and seeing them smile,” she added.