RWJUH-Somerset is 2nd facility in N.J. to perform gender-affirmation surgery

CEO Cava: Surgery is part of full scope of services for LGBTQ+ community at Babs Siperstein PROUD Center

The Babs Siperstein PROUD Center. (RWJBarnabas Health)

Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset, in a continuing effort to be a leader in health care for the LGBTQ+ community, recently performed its first gender affirmation surgery for a transgender woman.

RWJUH-Somerset is now the second hospital in the state to perform the surgery — Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center was the first — and is one of only a handful of facilities in the Northeast to do the operation.

RWJUH-Somerset CEO Tony Cava said the hospital is honored to be a leader in LGBTQ+ care.

“We were proud to lead the way in New Jersey as the first in the state to provide specialized primary care services for the LGBTQ+ community at our Babs Siperstein PROUD Center,” he said. “With the addition of gender affirmation surgery, we can now offer the full scope of LGBTQ+ medical care, from HIV prevention and wellness checkups to hormone therapy, behavioral health services and surgery.”

The gender affirmation surgeries are performed by plastic surgeon Dr. Jonathan Keith and urologist and robotic surgeon Dr. Nitin Patel. The two have collaborated on nearly 100 procedures since performing their first gender affirmation surgery — a radial artery-based forearm phalloplasty — at Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston in 2018. They continue performing gender affirmation surgeries there.

The six-hour procedure, sometimes known as “bottom surgery,” involves the use of the daVinci robotic surgical system and often includes an orchiectomy, penectomy (removal of the testicles and penis), creation of a new urethra, feminizing genitoplasty and creation of a vaginal canal.

Keith, a fellowship-trained and board-certified plastic surgeon who specializes in microvascular surgery, is a member of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health and founder of the Rutgers Center for Transgender Health.

Patel, a member of RWJBarnabas Health Medical Group, is a urologist with expertise in robotic, reconstructive and transgender surgery.

The partnership between Keith and Patel is unique. In most cases, gender affirmation surgeries are performed by either a plastic surgeon or a urologist, not both, and may require multiple staged procedures.

About the Babs Siperstein PROUD Center

Originally starting as a one-night-a-week clinic, the center served just over 200 patients in its first year. In 2019, it was renamed the Babs Siperstein PROUD Center in memory of transgender activist Barbra “Babs” Casbar Siperstein and moved into a new space to accommodate a growing patient population.

Marking its fifth anniversary this year, the Babs Siperstein PROUD Center serves more than 1,400 patients and is open five days a week offering primary medical care, hormone therapy and monitoring, HIV care, health education, counseling and support groups.

“Patients benefit from our experience and our multidisciplinary approach, because gender affirmation surgery is a very complex surgical procedure,” Patel said. “The use of the daVinci robotic surgical system allows us to be more precise and accurate and requires smaller incisions, reducing the risk of complications and resulting in better patient outcomes.”

The hospital’s surgical and inpatient care nurses have been specially trained in the care of gender affirmation surgery patients. A patient navigator from the Babs Siperstein PROUD Center is with the patient through every step of their hospital experience, from meeting them early in the morning on the day of their surgery to checking in on them multiple times a day throughout their weeklong hospital stay and following up with them after discharge.

“At Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset, patients know they can come to a place where they will be treated in a respectful manner and they can feel safe,” Keith said. “They also have comprehensive supportive services available here through the Babs Siperstein PROUD Center.”

Candidates for gender affirmation surgery must be at least 18 years old; have undergone one year of hormone therapy; have identified as their gender for at least one year; and have a psychiatric evaluation to confirm their gender identity. The surgery is covered by most major medical insurances.

“It is so rewarding for me to be able to help patients be their authentic selves,” said Keith.

Conversation Starter

To schedule an appointment at the Babs Siperstein PROUD Center, call 908-243-8647. For more information, click here.