The Reality of LGBT Healthcare

HRC reports on key advances and areas that need improvement

Photo by Think Stock

The number of American hospitals striving to treat LGBT patients equally and respectfully is on the rise, according to a report released this week by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. At a press conference with U.S. Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius at Howard University Hospital in Washington, D.C., the organization admitted that much work remains to be done to end discrimination in America’s healthcare system, but the once invisible issue of LGBT healthcare equity is gaining national prominence, with healthcare facilities committing themselves to offering unbiased care.

“Just a few short years ago the healthcare industry wasn’t having conversations about LGBT healthcare equality,” says HRC President Chad Griffin. “Now, thanks to advocacy by the LGBT community and some standout leaders, growing numbers of healthcare providers are making an explicit commitment to treat all patients with dignity and respect. The healthcare industry is beginning to heed the call for fairness and compassion.”

The report details the results of the most recent Healthcare Equality Index (HEI), an annual survey that’s found a 40 percent increase in rated facilities, which totaled 407 nationwide. It also found a 162 percent increase in the number of facilities achieving the status of “Leader in LGBT Healthcare Equality,” special recognition given to facilities earning a perfect rating by meeting four core criteria for LGBT patient-centered care laid out in the HEI.

The HEI is being used to help hospitals assess themselves against established best practices and ensure that they are complying with requirements for non-discrimination. These include a requirement issued last year by The Joint Commission, the largest accrediting body for U.S. hospitals, calling on all accredited facilities to extend non-discrimination protection to LGBT patients.

More than 90 percent of HEI 2012 participants explicitly prohibit discrimination against LGBT patients, and 76 percent ban discrimination against transgender patients. Additionally, about 75 percent of respondents have a written policy explicitly granting equal visitation rights to same-sex couples and same-sex parents. This represents a significant increase since the Department of Health and Human Services issued rules in 2011 requiring all hospitals that receive federal Medicare and Medicaid funding – nearly every hospital in America – to protect the visitation rights of LGBT people.

For the first time, the HEI additionally required participating facilities to document that high-level managers in key work areas had received expert training in LGBT health needs. As a result, more than 1,000 healthcare administrators across the country participated in training provided through the HEI.

“I commend the LGBT and healthcare communities for the progress made and I am proud to be part of an administration that has a historic record of accomplishment for the LGBT community,” says Sec. Sebelius. “We will continue to take action to ensure that LGBT Americans get equal treatment in healthcare settings and that all patients are treated with the dignity they deserve.”

Studies, including a 2011 Institute of Medicine report, have shown that the LGBT community faces health disparities and healthcare discrimination and that many LGBT Americans are concerned about experiencing bias in healthcare. But things are changing, as the HEI 2012 documents.

“Equal and inclusive healthcare saves lives,” added Griffin. “Increasing numbers of hospitals across the country are working to ensure LGBT patients receive care free of prejudice and discrimination. We thank the HEI 2012 participants for their hard work and dedication to ensuring healthcare equality for all patients.”

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