By Bradley Hinrichs
During the more than 40 years that I have worked at Rush University Medical Center, a huge shift has taken place in attitudes towards and treatment of people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning their sexuality or sexual identity (known collectively by the acronym LGBTQ). We have seen this shift in nearly all parts of society, and I have seen it first-hand at Rush as well.
As Rush and much of the rest of the country celebrate LGBTQ Pride Month in June, and as I prepare to retire at the end of the month, I find myself looking back with pride at what Rush has accomplished to advance equal treatment for our LGBTQ patients, employees and students, and looking forward with hope at the work we still have to do.
‘OK to be yourself’
When I began working at Rush in 1972, I wasn’t “closeted,” but I chose not to talk about or address the fact that I was gay with my colleagues. It simply was more comfortable that way, as I perceived that while my fellow workers were not necessarily bigoted or overtly prejudiced relative against the LGBTQ community, they also seemed to me to be fairly straight-laced and conservative.
Therefore, I didn’t make my sexuality an issue at work, which was a fairly standard practice for LGBTQ people in the ‘70s. By the time the decade was ending, however, I had partnered with another gay man, who also happened to be a Rush employee. We didn’t try to hide or not be honest about our relationship and our lives. I was generally pleased to learn that in nearly all cases, our colleagues at Rush were not shocked or offended by our personal relationship, and that it didn’t adversely affect my working relationship with them.
That acceptance is a good representative of what I have generally felt as an employee at Rush and that I know many fellow members of Rush’s LBGTQ community have experienced as well. One of Rush’s defining traits is that it is a community full of very good and kind people who largely feel respect and affection for those we know and work with. At Rush, it is OK to be yourself at work — not only with regard to sexuality and gender identity, but also race, religion, ethnicity and culture — and generally a comfortable thing to do and to be.
As I became involved in LGBTQ advocacy both at work and in my personal life, I was pleased to find that there is not only acceptance of differences in people and the diversity of different types of individuals at Rush, but there also is a desire to celebrate diversity in all of its forms. What’s more, I’ve found that this acceptance and celebration extends from the highest leadership levels through to the vast majority of people who work and go to school at Rush.
This outlook has translated into concrete action and policies to assure nondiscrimination towards members of the LGBTQ community. One of the most significant, and most important to me as a member of a same-sex couple, is that in 2008 Rush adopted a policy to regard family and family members as being whichever person(s) a patient chooses to designate as his or her family, whether biological family, legal family, or extended relationships such as domestic partners, significant others and friends.
This change enables each patient to designate whom they want to be able to visit the patient in the hospital. The ability of patients to allow whomever they choose be part of their care and recovery and visitation process while hospitalized at Rush is very important, and our visitation policies and guidelines explicitly are written to be open and welcoming.
This extended approach to family visitation already had been a matter of common practice for years, making Rush an early leader in this area. The federal government only mandated this kind of recognition of extended family visitation rights in 2011, and the Joint Commission adopted the same expectation for hospitals who are accredited by them.
Leader in LGBT Healthcare Equality
Thanks to this and similar policies and practices to protect the rights of our LGBTQ community, Rush has been deemed a Leader in LGBT Healthcare Equality for each of the last six years that we have participated in the annual Human Equality Index survey by the Human Rights Campaign, a nationwide LGBT advocacy group.
Rush rightly can be proud of this designation and the treatment of the LGBTQ community that it represents. However, there is more that we can do. To further advance Rush’s treatment of LGBTQ people, a year ago Rush established our LGBTQ Health Committee, of which I am honored to be a co-founder and co-chairperson. (The committee is part of Rush’s Diversity Leadership Council, which works to advance diversity and inclusion of all kinds at Rush.) Composed of both members and allies of the LGBTQ community, and with the support of Rush’s president, the committee is pursuing a number of initiatives that are intended to make Rush a best practice institution in the area of LGBTQ heath care.
In reviewing these developments, it’s clear that Rush has advanced significantly and made good progress in its respect for and treatment of the LGBTQ patients, employees and students. I am grateful to have been a part of it, and I look forward to much more progress in this area in the coming years. Rush has been and continues to be an organization that cares about doing the right thing and in doing things right. I and all the members of the LGBTQ community have been fortunate that Rush has included us in this regard.
Bradley Hinrichs is director of facilities planning, assistant professor of health systems management, and founding co-chair of Rush’s LGBTQ Health Committee. He is retiring at the end of June after 43 years at Rush.