Fenway Health Leads in Healthcare Equality Across the Board

Stephen L. Boswell, MD, president and chief executive officer at Boston-based Fenway Health. Photo by: Marilyn Humphries

By: Chuck Colbert/TRT Reporter–

A new report on that status of healthcare for LGBT Americans shows that an increasing number of hospitals are striving to treat patients equally and respectfully.

That’s the main take away point from the Healthcare Equality Index 2012 (HEI), Healthcare Equality Index, released on Tuesday, June 19, during a news conference in Washington, D.C. when Human Rights Campaign (HRC) president Chad Griffin and Secretary of Health & Human Services Kathleen Sebelius together unveiled the 64-page report.

Commitment to LGBT care

The report shows hundreds of the nation’s healthcare outlets, including hospitals, clinic/outpatient facilities, and healthcare networks have demonstrated their commitment to LGBT patients.

“Just a few short years ago the healthcare industry wasn’t having conversations about LGBT healthcare equality,” said HRC President Chad Griffin, according to a press statement.

“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,” he explained.

Now in its fifth year, the HRC Foundation produced  “Healthcare Equality Index 2012: Promoting Equitable and Inclusive Care for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Patients and their Families.”

Fenway Health with a perfect score

Meanwhile, back in Boston, Stephen L. Boswell, M.D., president and chief executive officer of Fenway Health “applauded” the study, crediting both HRC and HHS for their efforts in “raising the visibility” of LGBT health.

Still, he said the index gets at only part of the challenge in meeting the needs of LGBT people and serving them better. “Policies and procedures” are one thing, Dr. Boswell said over the telephone. Better yet, is medical care best “practices,” including the basics of gathering information about a patients “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” Asking the question about orientation and identity is important for primary care providers. The information is also helpful in gathering data about the LGBT community and its unique healthcare needs.

Importance of HPV prevention

Citing another critical practice, Boswell said it is imperative for health care providers to offer the HPV vaccine to both male and female young persons — before they are sexually active.

“We have one of the most biologically powerful vaccines,” he said. But it is not widely offered at the time it came be the most effective — before youth become sexually active.

Highly contagious, HPV is shorthand for human papilloma virus, which can cause genital warts, as well as throat, cervical and anal cancer — if not treated.

Fortunately, most people with HPV do not develop symptoms or health problems from it. In 90 percent of cases, the body’s immune system clears HPV naturally within two years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, based in Atlanta, Ga.

Altogether, eleven Massachusetts medical care facilities earned HRC’s distinction as “Leader in Healthcare Equality” — including Fenway Health.

A Fenway Focus blog posting voiced the medical care facility’s gratitude for the honor:  “Fenway is deeply committed to providing quality, culturally competent care to our LGBT patients and to fairness and equality for all staff, and we are proud to have that commitment recognized, especially in such a high-profile report.”

Other healthcare providers in MA with perfect scores

Other equality leaders include Baystate Health’s nine facilities (Springfield), Boston Medical Center, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Cooley Dickinson Hospital (Northampton), Faulkner Hospital, Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates (Newton), Mount Auburn Hospital (Cambridge), and Newton-Wellesley Hospital (Newton Lower Falls).

In garnering equality-leader honors, the Massachusetts medical care outlets —and others nationwide — all responded “Yes” to a body of four health care equality criteria and have policies in place to protect their LGBT patients and employees from discrimination. The leaders in healthcare also ensure equal visitation access for same-sex couples and same-sex parents through explicitly inclusive policies and provide staff training on LGBT patient-centered care.

Measures used for the HEI

The 2012 HEI 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.

Other Boston area participants include Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Tufts Medical Center.

More healthcare facilities participating in survey

This year’s index represents a 40 percent increase in participating respondents from last year. In addition, there were 237 outlets — a whopping 162 percent increase — in facilities that received a perfect score and were designated healthcare leaders.

States not represented include two NE states

Even though more facilities than ever volunteered to fill out the survey, 18 states are not represented, including Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, West Virginia, Wyoming — and the two New England states of Vermont and Connecticut.

On the same day that HRC issued its report, the Department of Health & Human Services issued its own annual report identifying nine objectives/accomplishments in LGBT health for the past year, as well as goals moving forward.

CDC and domestic partner violence among same-sex couples

For example, the National Institutes of Health has issued a report naming gaps and opportunities in LGBT health. For the first time, the CDC will report out data on domestic partner violence among same-sex couples. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has a video in the works about LGBT elder Americans. Finally, under the Affordable Care Act, a number of Community Transformation Grant awardees include LGBT target populations.

Grateful to the Obama administration

For his part, Dr. Boswell lauded the Obama administration for the unprecedented advancements made at the federal level for LGBT health, namely a recent hospital visitation (for same-sex couples) memorandum and a move to bar insurers from discriminating on the basis of LGBT status, among other accomplishments.

In addition, HHS has awarded Fenway Health a grant to create a training center on LGBT health for community health centers.

The National LGBT Health Education Center provides educational programming and consultation for health care organizations throughout the nation and the world with the goal of eliminating health disparities among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.

Advances in LGBT health

The Education Center is a part of The Fenway Institute, the research, training, and health policy division of Fenway Health.

At the press conference this past Tuesday, the Health and Human Services secretary spoke to the number of advances in LGBT health.

“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, according to news story in the Washington Blade.

Fenway the recipient of federal grant

In yet another LGBT health good news story, the Obama administration, back in May, awarded Fenway Health a $3.7 million grant. The funding will enable the medical care facility to double the size of its dental department and increase the number of primary care givers.

“We have seen a steady increase in the demand for those services over the last few years, so this money couldn’t come at a better time as we look to expand access to care for those who need it most,’’ Dr. Boswell told the Boston Globe.

With more primary care providers Fenway expects to serve an additional 4,000 to 6,000 patients a year.

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