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Eliminating barriers to care and making an enjoyable experience for trans folks seeking HRT and other services was the impetus for Dr. Jerrica Kirkley in starting Mariposa Health. The way to do that was twofold for her and her friend/business parter Dr. Matthew Wetschler. With the utilization of technology to fill a dire need, the online health system they developed is unlike anything else and is serving the trans and nonbinary community unlike ever before.

“The idea itself is to provide increased access to trans care, like HRT and medication specifically for gender affirmation, and to do it in a convenient format that is comfortable and also enjoyable for patients,” said Jerrica. Preferring to go by her first name, that is just one of the ways that she goes out of her way to make sure that all who cross paths with Mariposa Health feel safe.

I met Jerrica in October at the OUT For Health Resource Fair at The Center on Colfax and immediately wanted to know her story. She is warm, and her eyes are inviting; she speaks with an approachable confidence and has a smile that immediately puts you at ease. Jerrica is exactly the kind of person you can trust through a process that can be as challenging as gender affirmation transition.

Phones Ringing

Having just opened their virtual offices in July of 2019, the Mariposa Health method is new, unique, and truly convenient. It is done entirely through remote app contact, meaning that whether it’s through your phone or computer, you never have to physically be in the same space as your provider. You can consult with the doctor online, develop an individualized treatment plan, and receive your prescriptions delivered right to your door.

“It’s great that I am in the Denver area, and there’s several other providers in the Denver area providing HRT and trans care, but if you’re in somewhere like Pueblo, then it’s really hard to get good services. So, providing something that could be done remotely was really attractive. It was thinking about redefining not only trans care delivery but also health care in general,” she said.

In addition to removing barriers like time and location, another impact of using the online healthcare system that is beneficial to the people that Mariposa Health serves is the cost.

“The cost of healthcare is so incredibly complex, and when you have multiple insurance companies, private, federal, and state, all interacting in different ways, it is hard to be across the board that it’s going to be cheaper. We’ve basically set a price that we feel is accessible for all, and it’s a cash price, so it doesn’t matter what insurance you have; we don’t bill the insurance,” Jerrica said.

Insurance can often compound costs, as the monthly premium of plans adds up alongside the copay  and coinsurance cost of each visit. Mariposa Health is also looking at other funding sources to subsidize some of the costs for those who may not be able to afford all the costs involved in gender affirmation services.

Mariposa Health has also added on their website a “Pay it Forward” option so they can provide discounted and free care to the community when they need it most. Every dollar contributed through this fund goes directly to a trans person’s care.

Pros of Progress

For Jerrica, creating Mariposa Health and using the online format is part of her greater hope and vision of the direction that trans care should be going, normalizing it in a way that’s really never been done before and shifting the cultural perception of gender in our country and around the world.

“On a larger, maybe global, strategy, changing trans care specifically and getting away from the medicalizing and pathologizing of it … it’s not a medical disease to be trans or nonconforming; it’s just who we are, it’s just an identity of humans embracing it as a lifestyle. So, we are a medical company that is there to facilitate a lifestyle, and if you think about it in those terms, it can help reduce a lot of the dysphoria that’s already just there,” Jerrica said.

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She understands the significance of providing that individual care, and for many trans and nonbinary folks, it can even be lifesaving. Getting her start in gender-affirming care directly after finishing medical school. Jerrica became a leader in establishing gender-expansive curriculum and hormone-prescribing protocols across the country.

“I fell in love with it, when I could see somebody who was at that point in their life where they were able to start their transitions and really start to live their true identities; it was really powerful. There are few things that I would call truly lifesaving outside of a trauma surgeon, but when you do the day-to-day management of patients, it’s hard to see the end game,” she said. “Whether it’s starting a pill, an injection, or even just seeing somebody who’s like ‘Wow, this person understands me,’ they can go from being suicidal to having a new lease on life.”

In a testimonial to OUT FRONT from a patient who preferred to remain anonymous, the care receiver explained, “Mariposa Health has been wonderful to me. I have been to a number of providers about transition-related care and generally had positive experiences, but I’ve never had the satisfaction of knowing that my provider truly understands the lived experience.”
“Dr. Jerrica was able to do that for me.  She was kind, approachable, and understanding. There was no gate-keeping whatsoever, and she still managed to perform her due diligence as a medical provider in making sure that prescribed care would be safe and clinically appropriate. She returned with my lab results quickly and provided me with accurate, actionable information to make sure my transition proceeded safely and on track. She has been responsive to my questions and flexible in letting me find the right pharmacist for my needs and location. I am proud to recommend Mariposa Health to any trans people looking for a home-grown hero of our community to attend to their transition-related care.”

Family

Jerrica has a personal stake in the game which presented itself to her rather recently. Through providing care to her patients, and after years of repression, Jerrica came out as trans at almost the exact same time as opening Mariposa Health.

“I can certainly empathize with individuals in that situation where it’s like waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting … And then finally getting there. I’ve seen all ends of care and different environments, so taking all that and figuring out what I think is the best of all those worlds,” she said.

By designing Mariposa Health from the ground up and focusing on the queer community’s most underserved population, Jerrica is not only treating patients, she is giving humans a chance at an authentic life. While there are a lot of people in this country who cannot extrapolate the gender from the person, it is pioneers like Jerrica who aren’t afraid of changing the course of history through a hope, a vision, and taking action.

While Mariposa Health is currently only available in Colorado, they want to expand to more states and be that beacon of hope for so many who are unable to access proper and respectful care.

“I think we have a long way to go, and a lot of potential, and I think things will be changing, evolving, pretty rapidly over the next several years,” Jerrica said.

Jerrica has a hopeful optimism of limitless opportunities grounded in the ethics and reality of what it takes to get things down. Now that is a doctor we can put our faith in.

*Photo provided by Dr. Jerrica Kirkley