The coronavirus pandemic has forced hospitals to shelve hundreds of “life-altering” gender-change surgeries in order to devote resources to battle the killer bug.
The Mount Sinai Hospital’s Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery performs about 600 gender assignment surgeries per year, its executive director, Dr. Joshua Safer, told The Post.
Under a state order last month, elective surgeries were suspended at New York hospitals as the pandemic started hitting New York with a vengeance.
At Mount Sinai alone, about 50 gender assignment surgeries were postponed over the past six weeks.
Treatment of transgender people is an emerging medical practice. Mount Sinai and other health care providers — including NYU Langone and Metropolitan hospitals — launched transgender medicine after Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2014 approved a new policy allowing gender assignment surgeries for transgender residents.
Transgender people identify with a different gender than the one they were physically born with. Some individuals undergo hormone therapy, reconstruction of the breasts or genitals and other surgeries.
“People have been waiting for years to have surgery and now it’s postponed. There’s stress of the unknown,” Safer said.
In a video presentation to the transgender community, Safer emphasized that providing access to mental health services at Mount Sinai continues to be a “high priority” during the pandemic. Patients can participate in video appointments and hormone therapy can continue without interruption.
But he acknowledged that the delay in what he calls “life altering gender affirming surgeries” stings for transgender individuals who have long lacked adequate medical care.
“While this is happening to people with surgical needs across all sorts of areas, for transgender people specifically, the situation is superimposed on their previous reality. Care wasn’t even delivered just a number of years ago. People had to advocate for their own care,” Safer said.
“To take that situation and suddenly have this massive disruption is especially a challenge with regard to transgender care. We’re dealing with people who weren’t completely trusting the system to do the right thing. All of a sudden the system shuts down. … In bad luck to our transgender program, New York has been especially hard-hit.”
Many surgeons and other medical staff from the transgender program have been reassigned to the front lines in Mount Sinai’s hospitals’ emergency rooms and intensive care units treating COVID-19 patients. He said most transgender patients awaiting surgery, though disappointed, understand that the fight against the pandemic takes priority.
Safer hopes that gender assignment surgeries and other services can resume by “late spring.”
“We will get back to where we were later in the year and we will move forward with care,” he said.