by Sharon Gittleman
MICHIGAN: A trip to the hospital is in your future, but what will you find when you arrive? Will your partner be able to make important decisions about your care? Will the staff treat you with respect if they learn you are gay?
Thanks to the Human Rights Campaign and the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, the answers to those questions may be one less thing you’ll have to worry about if a serious illness strikes.
The two organizations are preparing the Healthcare Equality Index, based on surveys of hospitals across the country.
The questionnaires query institutions’ policies and procedures that affect LGBT patients when they check in for services. The surveys also explore the status of gay and lesbian doctors and nurses, asking questions like whether they receive domestic partnership benefits and are protected from employment discrimination when they join the staff.
Phase one of the study, begun last fall, will compile statistics without revealing which hospital provided the data to create an industry-wide portrait.
In the future, hospitals will be rated by their level of gay-friendliness, said Ellen Kahn, director of the HRC Family Project and co-organizer of the index.
“In the first report, out in May, we will be able to demonstrate the general trends we’ve found. Where they are doing well and not well,” she said. “It’s a good way to get a baseline on how the health care industry in general is addressing our issues.”
Surveys with two dozen questions were sent to some of the largest hospitals across the country, including private, public and religiously based institutions.
Questions ranged from whether diversity training is provided to staff members to the existence of written guidelines granting both same-gender parents the right to visit their children during hospital stays.
“We ask them about their definition of family and do they have partnerships with LGBT community groups?” she said. “The interest is in removing double standards applied to our families when we’re accessing health care.”
HRC’s study partner, GLMA, has worked for many years helping health care providers gain understanding about LGBT issues, she said.
“They have members around the country, including doctors, nurses, physician assistants. They have a broad reach into cities and towns around the country,” she said. “They are ambassadors for the project.”
So far, 62 hospitals have completed their surveys and another 50 are expected to arrive soon, she said. Organizers hope to collect at least 100 responses.
Nearly 30 institutions in Michigan were sent the questionnaire.
When it comes to health care equality, money may be a big motivator.
“There’s an opportunity to establish your hospital as being a pioneer on these issues,” she said. “Larger urban hospitals have to figure out ways to distinguish themselves from one another.”
Health care institutions have to ensure their market share of consumers to survive, she said.
“We’re hearing back from hospital leaders saying we never thought about these issues, we’re interested in looking at more,” she said. Do you have sample policies we can look at?”
Eventually, the surveys will be issued each year.
“Every hospital, regardless of size will be invited to participate,” she said.
Long term care and skilled nursing facilities, hospices and other health care providers will also be sent questionnaires in the future.
“We hope we wind up with a real change in the way hospitals and other institutions interface with our communities. A partner may be turned away in the hospital room without the chance to say goodbye to their partner of 20 years,” she said. “We want to change the landscape so these atrocities do not happen anymore.”