05/07/2015 07:51 EDT | Updated 05/07/2016 05:59 EDT

Transgender 'discrimination' alleged in Nova Scotia hospital system

A transgender woman living in Halifax says she experienced several instances of transphobia at the former Capital District Health Authority. 

Jessica Dempsey was born a male, but says she's always felt different. After years of self-questioning, she started transitioning from male to female in 2012. 

She says she has experienced discrimination ever since. Simple things such as taking the bus or going to the bathroom can be stressful — even dangerous. 

Last year, the abuse took its toll. Between November 2014 and January 2015, she attempted to take her own life on several occasions. 

Each time, she was taken to the emergency room at the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre in Halifax, and later hospitalized at the Abbie Lane mental health unit.  

''Unfortunately, the same discrimination that put me in the psych ward was still prevalent in the hospital system,'' she says.

Dempsey says she was regularly outed and addressed by her former name. Most times, she says, her hospital bracelets and meal tray tickets had her former name and indicated that she was a male. 

''One of the nurses at Abbie Lane just told me, 'Sorry, we're not equipped to deal with LGTBQ people here,''' she says. 

The worst instance, she claims, was when she received threats from a psychologist at Abbie Lane. 

''The psychologist told me, 'If you do this again, I'm going to tell the cops to leave you at the curb,''' she says. 

Some transgender Canadians avoid seeking help due to stigma

Nicole Naussbaum, president of the Canadian Professional Association for Transgender Health, says there's a lack of education within the medical community. 

''Medical school across Canada and the U.S. only offer, on average, five hours of LGTBQ-related content in their curriculum,'' she says. 

She says one in five transgender people in Canada have avoided seeking medical help for fear of not receiving dignified care. 

''Obviously, these issues create considerable barriers. People believe it's safer for them in their medical emergencies to stay out of the emergency rooms,'' she says. 

Officials with the Nova Scotia Health Authority say they can't comment on Dempsey's case.

Cybelle Rieber, co-ordinator for Pride Health at the Nova Scotia Health Authority, says they are in the process of training all their staff. She says they are also gradually changing their computer systems to indicate preferred names. 

''We know there will be mistakes, but we strive to insure that that becomes less and less — up to the point where it never happens again,'' she says. 

According to a 2011 report from Trans PULSE, which surveyed 433 trans-identified respondents in Ontario, 77 per cent of transgender Ontarians have seriously considered suicide and 43 per cent have attempted it. No similar research has been done Nova Scotia. 

Transgender people who are experiencing a crisis can call the Trans Lifeline toll-free at 1-877-330-6366. The help line is staffed entirely by transgender people.