Cheers to your gay health, Augusta. After a year of planning and analysis, Georgia Regents University beats even gay oasis Atlanta to offer the first LGBT free clinic in the entire state.

A project by several of the school’s medical students, the Equality Clinic officially opens its doors on Thursday after a Tuesday big gay ribbon-cutting ceremony (photo). It’s a facility whose time has come, gay doc-in-training Justin Niesler (with scissors) tells the Augusta Chronicle.

“[Gay and lesbian] friends would come to me that needed a doctor, and I couldn’t tell them where to go,” said Neisler, a fourth-year Medical College of Georgia student at Georgia Regents University. “I felt heartbroken and absolutely useless as a professional that I couldn’t help them.”

Despite its dynamic medical industry, Augusta, like most cities, has lacked a specialized health clinic and the physicians trained to accommodate lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender patients, leaving many in the community with few options.

Equality Clinic will have an LGBT focus but offer free primary care services to anyone who is below the poverty line, uninsured or underinsured. And it will do it in an environment free from judgment or discrimination. That’s an important step toward providing LGBT-savvy caregivers, Health Initiative Director Linda Ellis tells the media outlet.

“LGBT individuals, particularly those who live in more rural areas, are often hesitant to access health care for fear of being discriminated against,” Ellis said in an e-mail. “That delay can often lead to more progressed diagnoses, costlier treatment and worse outcomes. Lives and money can be saved if LGBT individuals can feel safe in accessing basic primary care and screenings. GRU’s Equality Clinic is providing just that.”

On Wednesday, Health Initiative shared congratulations on the development and touted the role that its Community Health Fund can play in the project’s future success. The Atlanta-based statewide advocacy group has healthcare money set aside for any LGBT Georgian who needs it. At Equality Clinic, those funds can help pay for services that might be required beyond the free medical visit, including prescriptions and bloodwork.

Chalk up another reason that Augusta is a good place to show your Pride.

[Augusta Chronicle]