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HRC’s Report on LGBT Healthcare: Prognosis Quote Positive

by Steve Weinstein
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Friday Jun 29, 2012
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In this age of LGBT progress, the healthcare industry has gone from outright hostility, ignorance and indifference toward LGBT patients to a commitment to education, training, sensitivity and respect, according to a report issued by the Human Rights Campaign.

At a press conference at Howard University Hospital in Washington, D.C., U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius introduced the gay-rights organization’s 2012 "Report on LGBT Healthcare Equality."

Although, according to an HRC press release, "much work remains to be done to end discrimination in America’s healthcare system, the once invisible issue of LGBT healthcare equity is gaining national prominence, with healthcare facilities committing themselves to offering unbiased care."

Just a few years ago, discussions of issues that, if not particular, then of particular concern to gay men, lesbians and the transgendered were avoided by the healthcare establishment. Many doctors, hospitals and other medical facilities often showed outright hostility to LGBT patients.

The report rates 407 facilities that responded to a survey. The top establishments received special citations, including eight in New York City. Among them were the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center; and NYU and St. Luke’s hospitals. Eight Boston area facilities were singled out for recognition, including Beth Israel Deaconess, Boston Medical Center, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Faulkner Hospital, Fenway Health, Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates, Mount Auburn Hospital and Newton-Wellesley Hospital.

Over 90 percent of participants have specific policies directed toward prohibiting discrimination against lesbian, gay and bisexual patients. Over three-quarters ban discrimination against transgender patients. The latter is a remarkable turnaround from the time when the transgendered were openly mocked by doctors and nurses.

There is a question mark hanging over the report, however: Weren’t those who bothered to fill out the questionnaire the ones most likely to be graded highly? Wouldn’t those facilities in places where bigotry still reigns, in turn, ignore a questionnaire sent out by HRC? It’s a bit like, say, polling on the Family Research Council on a question about gay rights -- or, alternatively, on a site such as this, asking a question about religious carve-outs for anti-discrimination laws.

"If that were the case, all the respondents would have scored 100 percent," HRC spokesman Paul Guequierre said in response to the above query. "Of course, anybody who take the survey, by virtue of filling it out is making progress toward healthcare equality."

Even so, HRC staff and other observers have seen definite progress nationally, Guequierre added: "Based on anecdotal evidence, we’re making progress around the country; however, not everyone is as far along as the hospitals that are participating."

Equally important as patient care, three-quarters of participants grant equal visitation rights to same-sex couples and parents. Last year, the federal government mandated that any hospital receiving Medicare and Medicaid funds -- which essentially means all of them -- have to take steps to protect visitation rights.

The horror stories of partners denied the right to visit loved ones or even advise about medical conditions used to be a regular news staple. One of the highest-profile incidents occurred in Miami, Fla., at Jackson Memorial Hospital just a few years ago. Janice Langbehn was denied access to her partner of 18 years, Lisa Marie Pond, while she was dying --¬†alone, without her partner or their three children at her bedside. The hospital not only refused to accept information from Langbehn regarding Lisa’s medical history; she was told outright she was in an "antigay city and state" and could expect to receive no information or acknowledgment as family, even after the hospital received a power of attorney.

Lambda Legal unsuccessfully filed a federal lawsuit. But the hospital, inundated with bad publicity, instituted a non-discrimination policy. Even so, officials at Jackson never apologized to Langbehn.

As recently as December of last year, a hospital in Tennessee denied a woman access to her partner. The hospital belatedly admitted that it received federal funds and addressed the situation at a staff meeting, according to news reports.

Even in California, which has strict non-discrimation statues on its books, a Fresno hospital repeatedly deny a woman access to her partner. The women had been attending a marriage equality rally when one of them collapsed from a seizure. Members of the staff sneered at the healthy partner’s Marriage Equality tee shirt.

Such incidents reflect how much bigoted individuals may thwart an institution’s intentions. It is worth noting, however, that in each of the above cases, the senior officials of each facility acted to correct the situation and did some sort of staff directive or training; or at least that’s what they told the media.

As the federal anti-discrimination requirements become more thoroughly mandated, there is every possibility that a least the larger facilities, including all hospitals, will institute some sort of sensitivity training among the staff. This is implicitly mandated in the Obama directive, said Guequierre, citing an expert on the HRC staff.

Although such training may seem a long way off in the Deep South and other pockets of anti-gay prejudice, the situation is changing -- more rapidly than many know, Guequierre said. Of special note is the treatment of the transgendered. As noted above, doctors and nurses are now coming to understand that, not only does this population have special problems and needs, but more importantly, they are fellow human beings worthy of dignity and respect the same as any other patient who walks into their offices.

Steve Weinstein has been a regular correspondent for the International Herald Tribune, the Advocate, the Village Voice and Out. He has been covering the AIDS crisis since the early ’80s, when he began his career. He is the author of "The Q Guide to Fire Island" (Alyson, 2007).

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