Intermountain Health will not offer “buttock surgery” for transgender patients, although it has hired a surgical director with that expertise

KUER reported that while Intermountain never offered such surgeries, the hospital system appears to have planned such treatment and accepted patients before reversing the decision.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, on Saturday, October 16, 2021. Intermountain has told a transgender patient seeking a vaginal lift that the chain of hospitals would not perform so-called “butt surgeries.” a report by KUER.

After Intermountain Health hired a plastic surgeon experienced in “buttock surgery” as its new surgical director of gender care, Intermountain Health will no longer provide that care to transgender adults diagnosed with gender dysphoria.

Suzanne Draper, Intermountain’s vice president of business ethics and compliance, confirmed in April that the company “has never offered phalloplasty, vaginoplasty and metoidioplasty as part of its gender-affirming treatment,” according to a letter obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune. And in a statement to The Tribune, the health system said it had made “no changes to the extensive adult gender care services it offers to the community, including surgeries.”

However, it appears that Intermountain had planned that with the hiring of Dr. Nicholas Kim to begin offering the surgeries for such patients. KUER reported Thursday that transgender patient Amber Chevrier was scheduled to receive a vaginal plastic surgery from Kim at Intermountain Health until she received a call in February canceling the procedure.

Sue Robbins, a member of Equality Utah’s Transgender Advisory Council, said Thursday she has heard from at least one patient who has had a similar experience.

Intermountain noted in its statement that the procedures, dubbed butt surgeries, “are offered by other providers in the community.” The statement did not say that Kim was hired to perform such surgeries, but that “Intermountain strives to hire the best and most experienced surgeons.” Some surgeons or providers have skills that are not utilized in their current role.”

“Intermountain has always been, and will continue to be, helpful to patients and is committed to helping those patients connect to the care they need,” the statement said, “whether internal to Intermountain.” Health or through our community partners and referral resources.”

News of Intermountain’s about-face comes after Utah lawmakers passed legislation in January barring transgender children from access to most gender-specific treatments, including hormone therapy and surgery. According to the Human Rights Campaign, Utah is one of 19 states to pass such legislation this year.

Entrepreneurial decision or discrimination?

In a letter responding to a transgender employee’s complaint of discrimination, Draper confirmed that Intermountain does not perform buttock surgery on transgender patients after an apparent reversal in the hospital system’s expansion of gender-specific care to include buttock surgery.

Staff member Sylvia Mouton said in the complaint that Intermountain has not been open in its decisions regarding these surgeries, claiming the policy is discriminatory because such surgeries are available to patients without gender dysphoria.

“[N]If one does not allow buttock surgeries for those diagnosed with gender dysphoria, but rather allows those surgeries in another context (e.g., rebuilding after a horrific accident or illness), it becomes clear between people suffering from gender dysphoria and People who want these surgeries differ for other reasons,” Mouton wrote.

Draper told the employee that the company found no “evidence of discrimination” in its decision.

“Intermountain is dedicated to serving our LGBTQ+ patients, particularly transgender and gender-matched patients,” she said. “Intermountain Health’s adult gender care program currently provides and will continue to provide a wide range of gender-affirming services (medical and surgical).”

Mounton has since filed a complaint with the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Bureau of Civil Rights.

Where can I have gender-affirming buttock surgery?

Intermountain said in its statement that it would match patients with providers who would perform these surgeries. It added that SelectHealth, Intermountain’s not-for-profit health insurance company and subsidiary, “allows medically appropriate care to be provided at other facilities when it is unavailable at network facilities.”

Still, it’s not clear which hospitals in the state will be performing buttock surgeries.

University of Utah health care providers offer such surgeries, according to spokeswoman Kylene Metzger. She did not answer The Tribune’s questions about whether Intermountain’s policies have increased the number of patients seeking such care at U of U Health.

Robbins said U of U Health was the first hospital system in the state to offer such surgeries and is likely the only provider in the state.

The Catholic Holy Cross hospitals, which were recently rebranded and acquired by Steward Health Care’s CommonSpirit Health, do not offer these or any other gender-affirming surgeries as they follow the faith’s “ethical and religious guidelines”.

These policies prohibit her from offering services such as surgical birth control, in vitro fertilization, sex reassignment surgery, and physician-assisted suicide.

In March, the United States Catholic Bishops’ Conference released a document stating, “Catholic health services shall not perform any surgical or chemical procedure intended to convert or take the sexual characteristics of a human body into those of the opposite sex” at the development of such processes.”

The statement also said: “You must use all appropriate means to alleviate the suffering of those struggling with gender incongruence, but the means used must respect the fundamental order of the human body.”

Another Utah hospital system, MountainStar Healthcare, did not immediately respond to the Tribune’s request for comment Thursday.

Justin Scaccy

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