Pullman Regional Hospital is perched on a tall hill that overlooks Washington State University’s campus and hills of wheat. And it could become a destination for trans women.
The hospital may become the first public facility in the state of Washington to routinely offer male-to-female sex reassignment surgeries.
But Pullman Regional is asking itself: “Should we offer this?”
“We’re just trying to say, ‘Is it right for a critical access hospital, a small community hospital, to be the first hospital in all of the Northwest, with the exception of OHSU in Portland, to offer gender reassignment surgery?’” Pullman Regional Hospital Chief Clinical Officer Jeannie Eylar said.
A doctor with privileges there is already doing other surgeries for trans people, and has told Eylar he wants to be certified to do vaginoplasty for trans women. Just 10 miles away, Gritman Medical Center in Moscow, Idaho, is competing to do that same operation — with the same surgeon.
To a pastor in nearby Moscow, Idaho, it all goes against everything he believes.
Douglas Wilson leads Christ Church, a conservative congregation of around 800, spanning the two college towns. He believes that sex reassignment surgery is unnatural and unnecessary. He calls it arrogant to change what God has perfectly designed.
“These people are sad people. And they need someone to show them what God teaches and what God’s way is,” Wilson said. “They don’t need someone to see them as a revenue stream.”
Wilson doesn’t want his members who work at the hospital to participate in the surgeries.
Eylar said the hospital’s 500 employees all know each other and work in close proximity.
“We’ve got to try to balance the emotions that people have on this,” Eylar said. “Really strong emotions both ways.”
Eylar said the hospital’s policy is this: As long as there are enough staff to do the operations and aftercare without those who object, the hospital would try to accommodate.
Pullman Regional asked for comments online and scheduled a public meeting about the surgeries, but canceled it.
Madeline Scyphers, a trans woman living nearby in the Palouse, is following the process closely.
“There are a number of trans women in the area who are planning to get genital reconstructive surgery,” she said.
Scyphers said buried beneath Pullman hospital’s public comment period on this surgery are bigger cultural questions.
“These questions are about whether we should allow an extremely marginalized population exist in public life — be fully public people in our society,” she said.
Emilie Jackson-Edney is a transgender woman living in Boise, Idaho. She has had sex reassignment surgery, but had to travel to Thailand to get it. She said it’s really important that more hospitals offer this surgery around the country.
“Having it local is good,” Jackson-Edney said.
People have to wait up to three years for surgery in Portland, the nearest location, but that’s almost six hours away from Pullman. And the surgery alone lasts up to eight hours.
“Usually, on a surgery like this there is a five-day stay in a hospital. But then there’s aftercare up to 30 days or more,” Jackson-Edney said. “So by being close to the hospital it’s going to make it a lot easier for them.”
Pullman Regional plans to make a decision this year.
Olivia Weitz contributed to this report.