HEI rewards Healthcare Equality Leadership

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By Melissa Lowery & Mark Stone

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Healthcare Equality Index, the annual report from the Human Rights Campaign Foundation serving as the national LGBTQ benchmarking tool that evaluates healthcare facilities’ policies and practices related to the equity and inclusion of their LGBTQI patients, visitors and employees.

The HRC Foundation developed the Healthcare Equality Index to “meet a deep and urgent need on the part of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer Americans: the need for equitable, knowledgeable, sensitive and welcoming healthcare, free from discrimination,” the reporting team writes in this year’s HEI. “No one facing health concerns should also have to worry about receiving inequitable or substandard care because of their LGBTQ status.”

In the 10th edition of the HEI, members of the HRC team reflect on a decade of progress in LGBTQ healthcare. That progress includes significant growth in the HEI and the number of healthcare facilities that embrace LGBTQ inclusion and patient centered care. A record 590 healthcare facilities actively participated in the HEI 2017 survey. An impressive 303 facilities earned HRC’s coveted “Leader in LGBTQ Healthcare Equality” designation given to facilities that receive a score of 100 points.

The VA leads the way to LGBTQ healthcare equality

David Jenkins, the LGBTQ veterans care coordinator at the Las Vegas VA hospital, was instrumental in working with administrators and employees to bring about what he hopes is a welcoming environment for all veterans.

“We have made our non-discrimination policy public, which lets all persons reading it know that we take it seriously,” Jenkins says. “They can feel comfortable knowing that we will not discriminate against them, not only on their LGBTQ status but for any reason. Our facility, it’s leadership and the entire staff says ‘YOU ARE WELCOME HERE’.”

In addition to a public non-discrimination policy, the VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System implemented staff training in LGBTQ patient-centered care and insures that employees feel free to be open about who they are in the workplace as well.

Jenkins, himself a veteran of the Navy who met his husband shortly after the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was instituted in 1994, feels it is not only appropriate but imperative that the VA take the lead in LGBTQ healthcare equality.

“It is important for the VA to be a national leader in ensuring fair and equitable treatment because all veterans have sacrificed so much,” Jenkins says. “As the nation’s largest integrated health care system, the VA sets the standard in many areas. It is important that we lead on LGBTQ healthcare equality to show that if we can do it, then anyone and everyone can do the same.”

Looking to the HEI for guidance

The Valley Hospital of Ridgewood, NJ, embodies the principles of Patient Family Centered Care, including core elements such as respect and dignity for all. In order to ensure that these principles are consistent throughout the expansive, growing health system, the hospital leads an interdisciplinary system-wide team of professionals who “own” the standards set forth within the HEI.

“Every department, access point, service line or practice has been reviewed, discussed and essentially explored in deep detail so we can demonstrate how pervasive these principles and standards are throughout the whole health system,” says Pamela Bell, Director of Patient Family Centered Care. “We know firsthand the personalized care and attention that the physicians, leaders, and staff provide each day, and the HEI gives us an opportunity to share this with the rest of the LGBTQI community. It’s a chance for us to demonstrate and promote our inclusive, healing environment to others who may be in need of health care yet are unsure of where to look or where to turn.”

The Valley Hospital aspires to achieve the HRC’s designation of “Leader in LGBTQ Healthcare Equality”, so Bell and her team embarked on an intensive process to take on the initiative within the system. “We organized our interdisciplinary steering team, met with different section leaders and physician groups, and went to the various outpatient practices,” Bell says. “Our executive team is proud and supportive of the work we do and we have been actively working with departments such as human resources, marketing and community relations to promote our environment of inclusion and diversity. Our executive team has faith that we will receive the HEI leadership recognition and anticipates celebrating the system’s success.”

The HEI is a roadmap to healthcare equality

The HEI 2017 indicates that diverse healthcare facilities across the U.S. are making tremendous strides toward LGBTQ patient-centered care. In unprecedented numbers, they are changing key policies, implementing best practices and training their staff. But work remains to be done in the battle for healthcare equality. In addition to active survey participants, the HRC Foundation proactively researched the key policies at more than 900 non-participating hospitals. “Unfortunately, the adoption rate at these researched hospitals stands in stark contrast to the near-perfect adoption by active participants,” the report reads.

The HEI offers a roadmap for how hospitals and hospital systems can take the necessary steps to provide excellent care and a welcoming environment for its employees, visitors and patients. If you find your local hospital is not a “Leader in LGBTQ Healthcare Equality”, consider meeting with the hospital administrators  to share the HEI and the community’s need for  their commitment to leadership in healthcare equality.

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