I consider myself blessed that, for all the times I’ve been in the hospital, I’ve never run into any overt homophobia. My partner, Lynn, has never been denied access or information. When one of my extended stays turned visiting hours into “Dykes on Parade,” no one at the hospital said a word. But I know many of us aren’t as lucky.
Last year, I wrote about a gay couple Rich Janulis and Jim Salengo. When Rich took sick on a trip to Rhode Island, the hospital wouldn’t give Jim any information. Rich eventually died from a bad heart, but the pain in Jim’s heart, because of the way he was treated by the hospital staff and others, is still palpable.
For many of us, coming out to our healthcare providers is still scary. We’re afraid if we do, we won’t get good care. The problem is, if we don’t, we’re guaranteed not to get the quality care we need.
The Gay and Lesbian Medical Association has joined forces with the Human Rights Campaign to take a monumental step forward in making healthcare more accessible to LGBT people. They have developed the Healthcare Equality Index, which, much like HRC’s Corporate Equality Index, will eventually rate hospitals on how well they handle their LGBT patients and employees.
A thousand of the country’s largest hospitals, those with 300 beds or more, were asked to participate. According to Ellen Kahn, director of family projects for HRC, there will hopefully be at least 100 hospitals surveyed within the next few weeks.
Kahn says they hope to release the first report in May of 2007.
“Because the healthcare industry experiences less autonomy than the corporate world does, due to state and federal regulations, we decided to use this first stage of the survey to look at trends and do an aggregate report instead of scoring hospitals,” she said. “It’s a learning environment for hospitals who haven’t looked at these issues. We’re giving hospitals the opportunity to understand that there is a standard of care for LGBT people.”
Since so many of us don’t have primary care doctors or don’t access primary care on a consistent basis, we may very well find ourselves in the local hospital emergency room when we get ill. These and a plethora of other factors make it essential that hospitals and their healthcare professionals are not only welcoming, but are also understanding of who we are and the healthcare issues we face.
“Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people have unique healthcare needs, and hospitals need to implement certain policies and procedures in order to ensure high-quality, nondiscriminatory care,” said Joel Ginsburg, GLMA’s executive director. “Some hospitals are already doing a good job. This project will help all hospitals improve their services to our community, [and give] our community the opportunity to assess which hospitals are willing to take those steps.”
“There’s an evolution that will happen within the healthcare community,” said Kahn. “We hope the survey will become an institutionalized measure that will extend to the broader healthcare industry.”
If this happens, coming out to our doctors may one day be routine. I think every lesbian is looking forward to the day when she no longer has to suffer embarrassing questions from her gynecologist. Transgender folks will no longer have to search for the one doc in a million who will treat them with respect, and gay men will no longer have to keep their sex lives a secret from disapproving MDs.
The Healthcare Equality Index has the potential to change the face of healthcare for LGBT people in this country, just as the Corporate Equality Index has changed the employment environment for us in the corporate world.
Libby Post is a political commentator on public radio, on the Web and in print.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 9, 2007