The Thing About Essentia Health

Imagine, if you will, being trans and you don’t go by your birth name anymore — and the clinic knows that — and you arrive at an Essentia Health clinic in Duluth for, let’s say an eye appointment.

“Hmmmm. Can you spell your last name again?”

“Hmmmmm. What is your date of birth, again, ma’am?”

“I’m just not finding you. How about your street address?

Also, for the sake of this scenario, there are four other people behind you impatiently waiting to register for their own appointments. You start to feel a bead of sweat pop up on your forehead.

“Can you spell your last name again?” Nothing. The registration lady calls for help. A supervisor slides her chair over. You’re feeling a little hot. Isn’t it humid in this damn clinic, today?


“Please don’t call me by that name,” you ask, trying to display calm under pressure. But now people are staring and, girl, even though you have a nice rack now — at this time in your transition — and even though you’re the girl with the Good Hair, ain’t nobody gonna save your ass. You’re CLOCKED.

That’s a representation of my experiences with Essentia Health up until the past few months, before my name change was made legal in a judge’s courtroom while tears streamed down my face. To say the healthcare system here made my life difficult and embarrassing seems obvious. Too many times, my privacy and my dignity as a human being were trashed in waiting areas or standing at a registration desk, waiting to see my doctors.

I’m experienced as an activist and as an advocate, so while I was often humiliated, I was able to stand up for myself and demand better. What really bothers me are the numbers of trans and gender expansive patients out there who have no history of being an advocate and remain vulnerable to a system that is so corporate it barely feels like a hospital or clinic system anymore. They’re building a billion-dollar tower in our downtown. They were doing it while I was crying in one of their bathroom stalls. We deserve better.

I expected my medical transition within the hospital system to be easier and more welcoming than my social transition out in the community. The opposite was true and that is worth noting. If I walked down the street in Duluth or Superior, if I was shopping, or if I was chatting with the guy driving my Uber, my identity as a woman wasn’t rebutted. But, heaven forbid I have a great day full of gender-affirming euphoric moments and then have to come in for an appointment with one of my providers.

And let me be clear — the problems were never with my providers. It was with support staff. And not in isolated incidents. It was systemic, ongoing, and persistent. One of the most egregious incidents occurred when I went in for gender-affirming breast augmentation in March. The nurse came into the waiting area to call me back. Even though they had my preferred name, she called out for me by my male birth name. I sat there, humiliated, while a waiting area full of women looked around. Finally, in the prep room, when I challenged the nurse on the use of my birth name, she replied, “I just work here.”

I met with the administration in June to discuss all of these issues. To their credit, Essentia Health has implemented new procedures around patient pronouns and preferred names. But, it’s still not enough. Extensive cultural competency training for all personnel, by trans people, is an imperative I continue to encourage, at every clinic and hospital in the area. But, the message needs boosting. Sadly, when WDSE, our local public television affiliate, wanted to do a story on my transition and my life here, Essentia Health wouldn’t allow my doctors to participate and wouldn’t allow the show’s crew to film my appointments for the story.

Do better.

Emerson Sloane can be found on Instagram: @_actuallyemmy_ and you can contact her directly at [email protected].

1 Comment


about 3 years ago

It is *horrible* that you had to experience that once, let alone repeatedly! Thank you for sharing your difficult experience here. It's unfortunate that Essentia couldn't correct the issue when you first brought it to their attention, but now that it is public, I hope they move immediately to rectify the situation!

To the Essentia staffer who is reading this and wringing their hands about what to do: do better. You may feel that it's hard for a large system to respond quickly when a societal standard changes so fast. But the thing is, society has long since accepted this, and you're woefully behind the times. Catch up, or lose out.

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