A first-of-its-kind health-care centre has opened in Vancouver, and the founders are inviting women, transgender and non-binary individuals to “come as you are.”
The goal of the CAYA (Come As You Are) Health Centre is to is to improve the health-care experiences and outcomes of people who have been historically marginalized based on their gender, according to its founders.
Dr. Veronica Li, a clinical counsellor, and dietician Stephanie Dang—who are both young, racialized women—were inspired to open a new practice together after facing their own challenges while seeking quality health care.
The project has been in the works for three years and the doors at 555 West 12th Avenue quietly opened in April.
Two months later, during Pride month, the founders made the official announcement in a statement Wednesday.
“CAYA Health Centre offers a medical and allied health care model that provides safe, trauma-informed, gender-affirming, sex-positive services for all women, trans, and non-binary individuals in a safe and supportive environment all under one roof,” the statement reads.
A total of 15 health-care providers currently work at the new centre, according to Dang, including two medical doctors.
“They specialize in care such as gentle Pap tests, IUD insertion and removal, STI testing, hormonal counselling, pelvic floor dysfunction and pain, trans care for hormonal maintenance and menstruation,” Dang explained.
Other members of the CAYA team include two massage therapists, two physiotherapists, three dieticians and six counsellors—with both Dang and Li among them.
All of the clinicians working at the new centre are trained to offer gender-affirming, trauma-informed and sex-positive approaches to health care—meaning they’ll respect the pronouns, desired names and unique circumstances of each patient.
“Seeking health care is scary. I think right now, we’re hearing from our clients and patients that there’s almost a mistrust in the health-care system,” Li said, pointing to long wait times and fears around women’s health concerns being dismissed.
“We’re trying to decrease the scariness of seeking health care so that people feel safe. But it makes sense to me why people would feel reluctant,” added Li, who herself does not have a family doctor.
‘WE WANT TO MAKE SURE PEOPLE KNOW WE’RE HERE’
Barely two months after opening, Dang says the doctors are working fully- booked days, and each of the allied health professionals are serving about 20 clients each week.
“The majority of the population we’re seeing are cis women and about 20 to 25 per cent are people who are trans, non-binary or gender diverse,” said Li.
The centre is still accepting new clients and the goal is to one day expand to new locations.
“There’s such a desperation and urgency for health care right now that we know the demand is there, the need is there,” said Dang. “We’re providing such excellent services and we want to make sure people know we’re here.”
Medical services are covered under provincial health care benefits, while those offered by the allied health professionals will cost anyone who doesn’t have extended benefits.
Clients can book two or three appointments in a row, meaning they can potentially get a massage, see their dietician and have a counselling session on the same day, in the same place.
The response to the initiative has been overwhelmingly positive—even before the doors officially opened.
“We received a message from a client who described when she saw our advertisement she cried happy tears because she’s been waiting so long to receive services like this,” Li told CTV News. “In a Google review we received, she said her doctor actually listened to her—she didn’t feel rushed, the space felt safe and clean. It’s exciting to know we can serve the population in this way,” she added.
CAYA’s founders were able to open the health-care centre with the help of a loan, but are otherwise funding this initiative out of pocket.
Despite challenges navigating the health-care system to secure licensing, and to ensure they are meeting the necessary regulations, the pair hopes their train-blazing will create lasting change throughout the province and eventually the country.
“We really hope this is just the beginning. We want more gender affirming care training, we want more training in trauma-informed care, and we want more funding. To have psychological services covered by MSP, that would be a dream,” said Li.