Work Remains to Achieve LGBTQ Health Equality

christopher-nolan-2By Christopher Nolan

Last week marked the eighth consecutive time that Rush University Medical Center was named a Leader in LGBT Health Equality by the Human Rights Campaign, and Rush Oak Park Hospital‘s third consecutive time receiving the annual designation. While this honor might not seem like breaking news after eight years, it is important to recognize exactly what leader status means for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning community.

This designation signifies that Rush has made a genuine, longstanding commitment to nondiscrimination policies for both patients and employees regarding sexual orientation and gender identity/expression; training in LGBT patient-centered care; and equal visitation policies for all families. This commitment is not something people should take for granted, even after eight years, given that only 496 hospitals or health systems have earned leader status out of nearly 5,700 hospitals nationwide, and nearly a third of 2016’s leaders earned the status for the first time.

What’s more, there are still four states without any hospitals with this status. These numbers suggest, and stories in the Human Rights Campaign’s Healthcare Equality Index confirm, that the LGBTQ community still experiences discrimination towards and health care inequities.

Progress and setbacks for LGBTQ equality

In fact, the LGBTQ community still faces discrimination in both social and health policy. While the national winds have been moving in the direction of improving the lives of the LGBTQ population — most evident in the Supreme Court of the United States ruling last June that made marriage equality the law of the land — many policies on the regional and state level are challenging the rights of the LGBTQ population.

For example, just last week elected officials in North Carolina passed what is possibly the most anti-LGBTQ legislation in the nation. The new state law strikes down a carefully implemented nondiscrimination policy that was instituted in Charlotte, bans all nondiscrimination policies for the LGBTQ community statewide, and bars transgender people from using the public restrooms that correspond with their respective gender identity. While there has been much public and private backlash against the controversial law, there is clearly much work to be done.

Fortunately, Rush is an institution that values the diverse communities we serve. Rush is leading the way to LGBTQ health equality not only by meeting the Human Rights Campaign’s four core criteria for leadership status, but also taking initiatives that go beyond those criteria.

In 2014, with the support of Rush’s Executive Leadership Council, the Medical Center’s Diversity Leadership Council established an LGBTQ Health Committee to bring best LGBTQ practices to Rush. The formation of this committee formalized and enhanced Rush’s already existing LGBTQ efforts in one group to make as much of an impact as possible.

Leading from experience

The committee grew out of my own experiences as a gay man working and receiving care at Rush. I distinctly remember my relocation to Chicago and the beginning of my health care career as a moment of excitement. I was proud that Rush had achieved Leader in LGBT Health Equality status, and it was something that I had noticed immediately when interviewing at Rush compared to other health systems across the country.

Rush’s leader status most likely led to me being more open and honest during my interview. I felt comfortable bringing all myself to the table, because Rush clearly valued the LGBTQ community.

After being offered the incredible opportunity to be a health care management administrative fellow  at Rush, I relocated from New York to Chicago. I needed to get acclimated in new city, a process that included finding a health care provider.

The first thing I did was search the terms “gay” and “LGBT” on Rush’s Find a Doctor website for finding a provider, not because I specifically needed a provider who identified as being LGBTQ, but rather that I was looking for someone who exhibited comfort and competency with the specific needs of my community. Unfortunately, the directory didn’t list physicians with this specific cultural competency.

I sought advice from Brad Hinrichs, a Rush administrator who was responsible for Rush initially attaining Leader in LGBT Health Equality status, and the momentum for the LGBTQ Health Committee began. Now made of leaders across all areas of Rush, the committee has identified and obtained Rush leadership support for six objectives that we currently are pursuing: improving access to care for the LGBTQ community and licensed provider education, enhancing resources and marketing for the community, transgender specific improvements such as providing comprehensive health benefits, updating the electronic health record to ask appropriately about sexual orientation and gender identity/expression, enhancing education for pre-professionals, and improving the Rush University student experience.

New transgender health benefits

A recent result of these efforts was that at the beginning of the year Rush became the first health system in Illinois to offer comprehensive transgender health benefits to employees and students alike. We also recently appointed a transgender health liaison, Sarah Gutierrez, a licensed clinical social worker in the Department of Health and Aging, to help individuals navigate the complexities of the system.

These achievements are continuing and extending Rush’s leadership in LGBTQ health equality, and as mentioned, more effort is underway. I feel proud to say that I work at Rush and am even more proud to work with so many amazing individuals and to be involved with our continued LGBTQ efforts.

Christopher Nolan, MPA, is Rush’s manager of community benefit and population health and chairperson of the Rush LGBTQ Health Committee

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