Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin and Secretary of Health & Human Services Kathleen Sebelius unveiled HRC’s annual report evaluating the LGBT friendliness of medical facilities throughout the country at a media appearance Tuesday.
The two appeared together at a news conference at Howard University Medical Center — a facility that received a perfect score in the new report — to talk about the findings in HRC’s 2012 Healthcare Equality Index, which is the fifth such report from the organization.
Griffin said during the news conference that medical facilities shouldn’t deny a patient the ability to see a loved one — whether it’s a same-sex or opposite-sex partner — while visiting a hospital.
“At no time are we more vulnerable than when we’re lying on an emergency room gurney or in a hospital bed,” Griffin said. “It’s a scary time; not a time to be alone, and we desperately need our loved one by our side. And of course, that’s exactly where they want to be, not sitting in a waiting room feeling scared or helpless, or even worse, in a car racing home to find legal papers that prove our relationships while critical medical decisions are being made without us.”
Sebelius noted the Obama administration’s work on improving LGBT health, mentioning accomplishments such as the hospital visitation memorandum and a move to bar insurers from discriminating on the basis of LGBT status.
“A lot of these improvement don’t get the biggest press headlines, but they reflect how every day in dozens of small ways every agency and division in our department is working to make things better for LGBT individuals and families we serve,” Sebelius said.
This year’s index includes 407 respondents that volunteered to fill out a survey on key aspects of treatment of LGBT patients and staff, including patient non-discrimination policies, visitation polices, employment non-discrimination policies and training in LGBT patient-centered care.
The report saw a 40 percent increase in participating respondents from last year. Additionally, there were 237 facilities — a 162 percent increase — in facilities that received a perfect score and were dubbed a “Leader in LGBT Healthcare Equality.”
Wayne Frederick, Howard University provost and chief academic officer, said Howard University Hospital was “delighted” to be included among the facilities that received a perfect score in the index.
“Patient-centered care is a universal standard and is expected of all health care providers and health care institutions,” Frederick said. “It is a standard that is deserved by all people regardless of race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity.”
The D.C.-based Whitman-Walker Health also received a perfect score in the index and is the only non-hospital organization in the district to receive a perfect score in the report.
Don Blanchon, Whitman-Walker’s executive director, said he’s “excited and honored” his organization’s work has been recognized by HRC.
“Whitman-Walker was founded more than 30 years ago to offer high quality and affirming health care for metropolitan D.C.’s LGBT community at a time when that was almost non-existent,” Blanchon said. “We are very proud to not only be recognized but to join the company of other health care groups around the nation who are working to ensure equal access to high quality care.”
Although more facilities than ever volunteered to fill out the survey, 18 states aren’t represented: Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, West Virginia, Vermont and Connecticut.
On the same day that HRC issued its report, the Department of Health & Human Services issued its own annual report identifying seven key LGBT accomplishments in the past year as well as goals moving forward. Among them are the National Institutes of Health issuing a report identifying LGBT health gaps and opportunities; the Centers for Disease Control issuing data on domestic violence for LGBT couples; and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services making a training video about LGBT elder Americans.
Griffin emphasized the importance of health care equity by narrating his own story about making his first visit to the doctor after coming out as gay while living in Los Angeles and wanting to correct his patient record by saying he had previously incorrectly identified as straight.
“My doctor didn’t make me feel comfortable,” Griffin said. “He didn’t sort of have the answers to the questions and I didn’t feel comfortable, which is what I expected with my doctor. So, I left and I immediately changed doctors and got a doctor that was referred by friends, and I was very comfortable with being honest with that doctor and asking every question I had as a young person struggling to come out of the closet. That was so important and so helpful.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article said Whitman-Walker was the only non-hospital organization to receive a perfect score in the Healthcare Equality Index. It’s the only non-hospital organization in D.C., not the country. The Blade regrets the error.