For trans and gender diverse youth, receiving gender-affirming healthcare can be a lifeline.
Working at the McMaster Pediatric Gender Diversity Program, Dr. Rosheen Grady sees firsthand the difference that access to care makes in her patients' overall health, wellbeing, and development.
"Adolescence is a point where we can intervene to really help support youths be their healthiest selves," said Dr. Grady, a pediatrician and adolescent medicine specialist at McMaster Children's Hospital in Hamilton, Ont.
The Pediatric Gender Diversity Program aims to provide medical and mental health services to trans and gender diverse youth as part of a comprehensive program that includes adolescent medicine, psychology, psychiatry, endocrinology, speech-language pathology, and social work.
The program also offers support for parents and caregivers, and is able to complete medical referrals and legal referrals such as changing gender markers and a person's legal name on identification.
"We provide information, options and care to youth who are experiencing gender dysphoria – this refers to the distress that a young person who is gender diverse may experience living in a body that doesn’t align with their gender identity," said Dr. Grady.
Since the program was established in 2016, Dr. Grady said demand for its services has increased exponentially. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020, the program was getting three or four referrals per week.
Today, the program’s waitlist currently sits at around 150 young people, with an estimated wait time of 24 months to receive initial assessment and care.
Supporting Better Health through the TD Ready Commitment
At a precarious time for an underserved population, the program is aiming to expand its services thanks in part to a $500,000 annual grant program supported by TD through Canada's Children's Hospital Foundations (CCHF).
The annual grant program from TD was established in 2020 when the Bank re-committed to working with CCHF by allocating $15 million over 10 years to focus on adolescent health, a key component of the Better Health driver of the TD Ready Commitment, the Bank's global corporate citizenship platform. Member foundations are able to apply for the grant on an annual basis to deliver programs aligned with the TD Ready Commitment.
TD has a long history of support for CCHF, and this year reached its $100 millionth dollar donated since the collaboration began in 1996 through its signature Children's Miracle Network program.
"We are aware that adolescent physical and mental health remains a pressing issue. That's why we are so pleased to provide support to the McMaster Pediatric Gender Diversity Program through the TD Ready Commitment," said Sarah Colley, Manager, Community Relations for TD.
"Through the TD Ready Commitment, one of our aims is to help support programs that are focused on providing improved access to care for everyone. Through our support of CCHF, we are proud to be a part of helping to make healthcare more accessible and equitable for adolescents across Canada."
Helping gender diverse youth to thrive
The McMaster program’s current model provides care to 60-70 new youths per year. The grant from TD via CCHF will allow the program to scale its support to an additional 25-30 youths, allowing the program to fully support 85-100 new patients each year.
"Youth who have gender dysphoria or are gender diverse really need a thoughtful, more comprehensive approach that includes psycho-social support and the expertise of allied healthcare members," said Dr. Grady.
Dr. Grady's hope is for the program’s work to be sustainable for years to come, and to use some of the dedicated funding to produce evidence-based results that can be used to obtain further support from the Ontario provincial government.
"Not every young person follows a classic checklist of options through our program," said Dr. Grady.
"Every person's journey and every person's needs are different. That's why it takes more time, assessment and resources to figure out what's the best thing for that person and the family."
From the patients' initial assessment to their last visit, Dr. Grady said it's a "joy" to be able to help gender diverse youth and their families thrive.
"A parent had told me they were so happy to see their child again and that their child been previously 'drowning in depression,'" Dr. Grady said.
"They realized they have a daughter now, and they're grateful for the resources and support that the program provided to them. It can be so rewarding to hear that."