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Boston Hospitals Rank High on LGBT Healthcare Equality Index

by Zachary Bloom
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Jul 3, 2012

We in the Boston area pride ourselves on our city's status as a worldwide leader in medicine, but who in Boston's LGBT community knew we had it so good? That's the message of the Human Rights Campaign's latest Health Equality Index (HEI) report, a nationwide survey of LGBT-centered care at 407 different healthcare facilities.

Eleven Boston-area hospitals completed the voluntary survey, and eight got a perfect ranking as "Leaders in LGBT Healthcare Equality." That means that in addition to following the state law banning employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, eight Boston-area hospitals also have specific policies banning discrimination in the treatment of LGBT patients, have specific policies allowing same-sex couples visitation rights for each other and for their children, and provide senior staff members with training in LGBT-specific issues.

Only Tufts Medical Center, the Dana-Farber Institute and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) fared less than perfectly, with MGH apparently just following the state law against hiring discrimination. Perplexed that an institution known as a worldwide leader in almost every regard would be so far behind in the treatment of LGBT patients, EDGE called Jeff Davis, MGH's Senior Vice President of Human Resources, who spoke regretfully about the hospital's ranking.

"The Health Equality Index is a voluntary, self-reported survey," Davis told EDGE, "And we suffered by being too literal in our responses."

Essentially, the hospital staff filling out the HEI survey suffered for splitting hairs. For example, the survey specifically asked whether each hospital's patients' bill of rights includes the terms "sexual orientation" and "gender identity." MGH's patient bill of rights, a one-page document that speaks only in broad terms about its anti-discrimination policy, does not, so that lowered their ranking.

But Davis pointed to MGH's Patient Information Guide, a detailed pamphlet given to all incoming patients, which specifically uses both of the terms required by the HEI survey.

And what about visitation rights for same-sex couples and parents? Again, the survey results were misleading. According to Davis, the hospital's visitation policy doesn't enumerate visitation rights for LGBT families because the hospital doesn't actually require visitors to be relatives of the patient. Patients choose whom they want to see and whom they don't. But what if the patient is unconscious?

"We basically take their word for it," if the visitor can prove a relationship exists with the patient, said Davis, "Except, of course, in domestic violence situations."

MGH also has plans in the works to provide training on LGBT-centered care to senior staff and providers, as does the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, whose staff responded in a similar vein to Davis.

"The latest Health Equality Index rating suggests that we did not meet the patient visitation policy and staff training criteria... [but] we have updated our visitation policy to reflect the language recommended by the [Human Rights Campaign], and several senior leaders have participated in a HRC-sponsored training program -- and more will be trained in the future," said Mary Heath, department administrator of the Department of Cancer Immunology and AIDS at Dana-Farber.

Impressed by the robust nondiscrimination efforts made by the two supposed "worst offenders" against LGBT equality in Boston’s healthcare scene, EDGE reached out to Tina Gelsomino, administrative director of Brigham and Women’s Office for Women’s Careers and volunteer Co-Chair of the hospital’s LGBT Employee & Friends Group, about the practices and philosophy of a recognized HEI Leader.

She described the hospital’s participation in the HEI survey as a way to "see what we’ve done and where the gaps are," adding that "any opportunity for education is one that we aspire to."

Gelsomino highlighted the hospital’s efforts to promote LGBT equality both within and outside of the criteria required by the HEI. Especially important is the hospital’s training in LGBT-centered care, provided to all frontline staff, and the LGBT Employee & Friends Group’s 90-minute training session for senior hospital staff, designed to raise their awareness of healthcare issues specific to gay and transgendered patients and how to respond appropriately to them.

Additionally, the hospital runs what they call the "Be an Ally Campaign." Staff members can elect to wear ally stickers on their badges to acknowledge publicly their commitment to nondiscrimination against LGBT patients. The goal is not just to convey a respect for equality, but also to encourage patients to feel comfortable discussing pertinent health information, such as HIV status, to their healthcare providers.

"The goal," Gelsomino said, "is to ease someone’s burden when they’re already feeling bad."

It’s a goal all healthcare providers should aspire to, and one already achieved by most of Boston’s best and brightest.

Other Boston-area healthcare providers ranked as Leaders in LGBT Healthcare Equality are Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston Medical Center, Faulkner Hospital, Fenway Health, Harvard Vanguard, Mount Auburn and Newton-Wellesley. Staff at Tufts Medical Center did not return a request for comment.

Zachary is a recent graduate of UMass Amherst, where he studied English, Creative Writing and Spanish. He lives in Boston.


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